Pulaski County and Williamsburg hope the second time's a charm at the Russell Athletic/KHSAA state football championships in Bowling Green this weekend.
Pulaski County and Williamsburg both made their first appearances in the finals last year, and both lost to powerhouse teams.
Bowling Green beat Pulaski County 49-14 for its third consecutive undefeated season and Class 5A title. Mayfield whipped Williamsburg 42-0 to win its third Class A title in four years.
Pulaski County earned a return trip to the finals by beating Cooper in last week's semifinals. The Maroons will face Graves County in the 5A finals Friday night.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"We may have a little more comfortable feeling having been there before, but there's still a lot stress and a lot of jitters," Pulaski County Coach Johnny Hines said.
Williamsburg stayed unbeaten with a semifinal victory at Raceland last week. The Yellow Jackets will have a rematch with Mayfield in the Class A title game Saturday.
"We know a little more what to expect; we're a little more battle-tested," Williamsburg Coach Jerry Herron said. "But we're still playing a great football team, and it's still a big venue, and we're talking about 16- to 18-year-old kids handling all that."
Herron said his players had an "eye-opening" experience last year when Mayfield blocked a punt in the opening minutes and built a 35-0 lead in the first quarter.
Mayfield Coach Joe Morris remembered his team's great start and how Williamsburg was "kind of shell-shocked.
"But we know for a fact we're in for a battle this year. I think they're a lot better football team. They have a very athletic quarterback, a couple really good receivers and they run the ball a lot better."
Williamsburg quarterback Skyler Griffith didn't play in last year's finals because of an injury. He's generated 3,161 yards and 56 touchdowns passing and running this season. Corey Shelton and Chase Lowrie have 84 catches, 1,884 yards and 30 TDs between them. Fred Massey, a transfer from Harlan County, has run for 1,063 yards and 20 TDs.
"We're better in the offensive and defensive line this year, and we hope our talent and speed can match Mayfield's better this year," Herron said.
The Cardinals' top threat is sophomore Trajon Bright, who's rushed for 1,885 yards and 31 TDs.
Pulaski County's defense will try to slow down Graves County senior star Cody Crider, who's rushed for 2,566 yards and 31 TDs.
But Graves County also faces a big challenge in trying to contain Pulaski County's explosive offense.
Maroons junior quarterback Riley Hall was sidelined by a broken collarbone for a few weeks, but he's been back in the lineup the last two games. "He was a little rusty at first, but he's getting back in the groove," Hines said. "He's feeling good again."
Hall has thrown for 1,905 yards and 20 TDs. His favorite targets are Jake Johnson (73 catches, 1,197 yards, 11 TDs) and George Gregory (32 catches, 574 yards, seven TDs).
When Hall was hurt, he never doubted his teammates would get the job done.
"I believed in them and knew they'd pull us through," he said. "It wasn't about me. It was about the team."
Even though this is Pulaski County's second time in the finals, Hines senses even more excitement, and he expects a lot of support in Bowling Green.
"I think Maroon Nation will show up in force," he said.