High School Sports

Prep notebook: Wild scores might be result of spread offenses, fear of injury

Boyle County's Brandon Devins,4, celebrated his second quarter touchdown as Lexington Catholic played Boyle County  on Friday  October 3, 2014  in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Boyle County's Brandon Devins,4, celebrated his second quarter touchdown as Lexington Catholic played Boyle County on Friday October 3, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

After Danville beat Lexington Christian Academy 58-57 last week, Admirals Coach Clay Clevenger got a text message from longtime friend Larry French.

French, the coach at Southwestern, asked Clevenger who was in charge of Danville's defense. Clevenger laughed. French knew that Clevenger was the Admirals' defensive boss and was gigging him about Danville giving up eight touchdowns.

Clevenger's reply?

"I told him kids would rather win 58-57 than 7-6, and it creates excitement that helps recruit kids in the halls at school."

If that's true, recruiting the halls should be going well at a lot of schools. High-scoring games seem to be the norm. Henry Clay's 70-63 win over Bryan Station last week was an extreme example. It was a scoring frenzy from start to finish as the teams combined for 1,233 yards. Of the 19 scoring "drives," 11 took less than two minutes, and just one took more than three minutes.

To see if there was any statistical evidence to support the notion that there's more offense these days, I tallied all the scores from week 10 of the 1994 high school football season in Kentucky and compared them with week 10 this year. Twenty years ago the average score of all the games was 32-10. Last week the average score of all the games was 42-16. That's a pretty sizable bump.

Why is there so much offense? Has tackling gone the way of the leather helmet?

"I think the biggest thing is, with these spread offenses, you have to defend the whole field now," said French, who won two state titles at Boyle County. "You can't hide anybody on defense anymore. If you're in the wrong alignment, and they get their athletes on your non-athletes, they have an advantage and can score from anywhere."

Clevenger, who was an all-state lineman on a state championship team at Danville 20 years ago, thinks the wide-open, pass-attack philosophy at the college level has trickled down to the high schools. "You see a lot more spread offenses, that gunslinger-type mentality. Twenty years ago most everybody was running the ball. Now almost everybody's throwing it. And there's probably a little less demand on physical football."

Clevenger calls himself a "throwback guy" who'd prefer to run the ball. But sophomore quarterback Zack Dampier has won him over to a passing game. "It's been an adjustment for me," Clevenger admitted. Dampier threw for 450 yards and four TDs against LCA. Trenton Johnson had eight catches for 237 yards and two TDs. LCA countered with Nick Whitman, who ran for 317 yards and had seven TDs.

Calloway County Coach Brad Lawson, a former Lexington Catholic assistant, thinks heightened awareness of injuries, specifically concussions, has led coaches to throttle back on contact in practice.

"One reason defenses aren't as good as they used to be comes from the pure fact that a lot of coaches in the pros, colleges and high schools are scared of injuries and concussions. That's why they don't go 11-on-11 much." Lawson said Calloway County had a game this season in which six starters were out with concussion-like symptoms. "You've got to think of the kids' safety first," he said.

Lawson calls himself a "defensive-minded coach. I don't like scoring all those points, and I sure don't like giving them up. I'd rather it be 14-7." Lawson didn't mind Calloway County's 68-41 win over North Bullitt last week. After all, the Lakers' offense was run-oriented. Tristan Holland, a 5-9, 175-pound senior, carried 19 times for 429 yards and six TDs.

French, meanwhile, was in a good mood when he texted Clevenger last week.

Southwestern had just beaten previously undefeated Pulaski County 14-0 in a throwback, old-school kind of football game. Senior linebackers Kody Smith and Wyatt Karter were the stars. Pulaski County went into that game averaging 42 points, but Southwestern shut them down. "We tackled well," French said.

That's something you don't hear much from football coaches anymore.

■ Graves County running back Cody Crider carried 30 times for 424 yards and seven TDs in a 56-14 win over Hopkinsville. A 6-1, 195-pound senior with 4.5 speed, Crider has rushed for almost 4,000 yards and 48 TDs over the last two years. "He's got power, he's got speed and he's got great vision," Eagles Coach Lance Gregory said. Crider also stars on defense at outside linebacker. "He's just a big, strong, fast kid," Gregory said. "It's hard to believe some bigger schools, like Western, aren't looking at him." Crider has offers from Murray State and Southern Illinois.

■ When Pulaski County needed a 10th game to complete its schedule, Coach Johnny Hines wound up adding Bowling Green.

The Maroons will host the three-time defending Class 5A champions Friday night. It's a rematch of last year's state finals when Bowling Green beat Pulaski County 49-14. Has Hines ever had second thoughts about playing the Purples in the regular-season finale?

"I've thought about it 100 times," he said. "I don't know if we're good enough to compete with them, but it's kind of a program measuring tool for us." Pulaski County is without star quarterback Riley Hall, who is recovering from a broken collarbone. The Maroons' 18-game regular-season winning streak ended with a loss to Southwestern last week.

■ Owensboro Catholic junior quarterback Ray Zuberer Jr. is on pace to take over the No. 2 spot in the state record book for TD passes in a season. Zuberer threw for five TDs in the Aces' 60-7 rout of McLean County last week. That gives him 51 TD passes this season. The state record is unreachable — Corey Robinson threw for 91 TDs in 2007 — but Zuberer could overtake Justin Burke, who passed for 62 TDs in 2005. Owensboro Catholic is rated one of the top teams in Class 2A, so Zuberer could have a few playoff games.

■ This week in high school football in 2000: Clay Dooley and Derrick Bussell returned interceptions for TDs to help Rockcastle County beat Bell County 26-0 and wrap up an undefeated regular season . . . Mason County's Henry Lewis, a UK commit, threw for 232 yards and three TDs in a 40-0 win over West Carter . . . Lexington Catholic thumped West Jessamine 42-13 as Clay Wolford scored a TD in his 24th consecutive game.

■ Lexington Catholic's decision to end its athletics agreement with Fayette County's public schools could mean we're headed back to a scheduling boycott.

Before the conditions of the agreement went into effect four years ago, Lexington's public schools rarely played Lexington Catholic in the regular season. Remember how it used to be? In 2003, when Henry Clay beat the defending state champion Knights in the 11th Region boys' basketball semifinals, it was the first time the teams had met since 1993.

In the boycott days, the public schools didn't play Lexington Catholic in the regular season even if they were in the same district. Postseason seeding was determined by a blind draw. It'll be interesting to hear Fayette County superintendent Tom Shelton's response to Lexington Catholic's decision. If there is a scheduling boycott again, it probably wouldn't go into effect until the 2015-16 school year. But we'll wait and see what happens.

■ Tates Creek senior Ben Young will be favored to win the Class 3A Region 6 cross country meet Saturday in Maysville.

Young finished fourth in the state last year. The 3A Region 6 competition starts at noon, followed by the 1A Region 5 races, which include Lexington Christian and Sayre, at 1:30. The 2A Region 4 competition, which includes Lexington Catholic, is Saturday in Burlington (Boone County) starting at 11:30 a.m. The state meet will be at the Kentucky Horse Park on Nov. 8.

■ Four-time defending state volleyball champ Assumption lost to Sacred Heart in three sets in the 7th Region semifinals. Assumption has 18 state titles, including 16 of the last 19. Mercy, favored to win the 6th Region, is rated No. 1 in the state. Assumption is No. 2 and Sacred Heart No. 3.