Big wheels keep on turning: Since Kentucky's high school football playoffs expanded from four classes to six in 2007, Belfry, Central, Highlands, Mayfield, Newport Central Catholic and Trinity have combined for 39 (out of a possible 48) appearances in the finals. Highlands leads the pack, having made it to championship weekend eight years in a row. Trivia note: the last time Highlands and Trinity both missed the finals was 1993.
■ Highlands has 22 state championships spread over 54 years, with seven coaches winning titles: Dale Mueller (11), Bill Hermann (three), Homer Rice (two), Mike Murphy (two), Tom Duffy (two), Owen Hauck (one) and Roger Walz (one). Trinity's 22 titles are spread over 46 years, with five coaches winning them: Bob Beatty (10), Dennis Lampley (five), Dave Moore (three), Jim Kennedy (two) and Roger Gruneisen (two).
■ Highlands is 22-6 in title games. Trinity is 22-4.
■ Owensboro's prayer was answered as the Red Devils stunned North Oldham 27-24 with a touchdown as time expired in the Class 4A semifinals last week. "It wasn't a Hail Mary. It was an Our Father. We had to go straight to the top for that one," Owensboro Coach Joe Prince said of the 61-yard TD pass play. After host North Oldham took a 24-21 lead on a field goal with six seconds left, Owensboro downed the ensuing kickoff on its own 39. On the last play of the game, Devils quarterback Nick Locher threw long. The ball was tipped by North Oldham's Cole Emery, then tipped again by Owensboro's Jahili Barrett, and into the hands of teammate Kishawn Walker at the Mustangs' 30-yard line. Walker took it to the end zone, and bedlam broke out on the Owensboro sideline. "We got lucky," Prince said. "We were blessed to be in the right place at the right time."
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■ Kentucky doesn't get enough credit for its high school football tradition, according to Owensboro Coach Joe Prince. He noted that Highlands, Male, Mayfield, Paducah Tilghman, Danville, St. Xavier and Owensboro are among the top 50 winningest programs in the nation. Highlands, Male and Mayfield rank in the top five.
"Everybody talks about basketball in this state," Prince said. "I have nothing against basketball. I love it. I played in the state tournament in high school. But when you talk about the winningest football schools in the country, and we have all those in the top 50, that's crazy, that's unbelievable."
■ Dixie Heights is in the finals for the first time. Trinity, the Colonels' opponent in the 6A title game, is in the finals for the 27th time. "Being the underdog, we've gotta deal with the mystique of Trinity and its 22 state championships," Coach Dave Brossart said. "Trinity is like Highlands. You've gotta believe you can win if you're going to have a chance. We've talked about it with our players. We told them it's OK to be nervous, but they've got to turn that feeling into a positive thing." Dixie Heights will be the fourth Northern Kentucky school to play Trinity in the finals. The Shamrocks beat Boone County (and Shaun Alexander) 21-7 in 1994, Ryle 41-7 in 2006, and Simon Kenton 48-0 in 2008. Dixie Heights is led by senior quarterback Drew Moore, who has been terrific in the option. He has rushed for 1,791 yards and 28 TDs, and thrown for 1,245 yards and 10 TDs. It'll be interesting to see if Moore can find any daylight against Trinity. Dixie Heights' defense, led by linemen Branden Johnson and Colson Hachlitt, will be tested by Trinity's multi-set attack.
■ Dixie Heights Coach Dave Brossart played at Beechwood in the late 1980s, when rival Pikeville won three consecutive Class A titles. "Oh, yeah, I remember being on the losing end of those games," he said. "I still have nightmares about playing against Pikeville."
■ Graves County running back Cody Crider has gotten the attention of Pulaski County Coach Johnny Hines. Crider, who will go against Pulaski County in the 5A finals, has rushed for 2,566 yards and 31 TDs this year. He ran for 424 yards and seven TDs in a win over Hopkinsville. "He reminds me a lot of (Madison Southern's) Damien Harris," Hines said. "Damien might be a step faster in a straight-out foot race, but not much. Crider is big and strong, a hard downhill runner who's tough to tackle. I think he and Damien Harris are the two best running backs in the state." Crider, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior with 4.5 speed, has offers from Murray State and Southern Illinois.
■ Brian Weinrich is in his first year as Highlands' coach, but he's been the Bluebirds' boss in a state championship game before. When Highlands beat Collins 47-0 in the 2012 finals, Weinrich, then defensive coordinator, was in charge because coach Dale Mueller was in New York for the funeral of his mother-in-law. After Highlands' victory, Weinrich credited Mueller. "What happened tonight is because of him. He built this program and the foundation is so solid, we just didn't want to screw it up."
■ Highlands quarterback Beau Hoge gets a lot of attention for obvious reasons. He's a great playmaker as a passer and runner, he's committed to play at Brigham Young, and he's the son of former NFL player and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge. But Owensboro Coach Joe Prince thinks Highlands' offensive line hasn't gotten enough credit over the years for helping the team's stars shine. "Their line does a fantastic job every year," he said. "I watched them one year and I felt like even with two artificial hips, I could've run for 100 yards that night."
■ Highlands has beaten Lexington Catholic in the 4A semifinals four years in a row. But their playoff rivalry is kaput for the next few years. Highlands is moving up to 5A next season, and Lexington Catholic is dropping to 3A. Among other semifinalists this year changing classes in 2015: Mayfield (A to 2A); South Warren (3A to 4A); Owensboro (4A to 5A); John Hardin (5A to 4A); Cooper (5A to 6A), and Dixie Heights (6A to 5A).
■ Newport Central Catholic's early-season schedule always includes bigger schools in Northern Kentucky, and even though the Thoroughbreds take some lumps, they're better for it. Class 2A NewCath started this season 0-4, losing to 5A Cooper and 6A Campbell County, Simon Kenton and Dixie Heights. Then they won eight of nine games. Last year NewCath got off to a 1-4 start but reached the state finals before falling to DeSales. In 2012, NewCath started 2-4 but wound up winning the state title.
■ WVLK-FM 101.5 will broadcast all six championship games. Gary Ball and Bill Ransdell will do the Class A, 2A and 6A finals. Steve Bertram and Freddie Maggard will do the 3A, 4A and 5A finals. Scott Thompson will report from the sidelines.
■ Mayfield graduated eight starters on offense and eight on defense, but the Cards are back in the state finals for the sixth year in a row. "For some reason, and I don't know what it is, we always have kids that step up and fill those spots," Coach Joe Morris said. "I feel fortunate to be able to coach at a place like this, where it's expected that we win."
■ Michael Bright, who starred on Mayfield's 1995 state championship team, has two sons on this year's Cardinals team. Kel Carmen is a senior lineman and Trajon Bright is a sophomore running back. "Kel is 6-foot-3, 325 pounds, and his brother Trajon is 5-7, 140. I don't get it," Mayfield Coach Joe Morris said with a laugh. Michael Bright was a 6-3, 215-pound running back in high school.
■ Caldwell County quarterback Elijah Sindelar is Gatorade's player of the year in Kentucky. Sindelar, who has committed to Purdue, passed for 3,609 yards and 49 touchdowns this season before suffering a knee injury against Murray in the third round of the playoffs. He finished his career with 12,637 yards (second-most in state history) and a state-record 144 TD passes. He also set a state record by throwing a TD pass in 41 consecutive games. Former Kentucky quarterback Freddie Maggard said he considers Sindelar "the best Kentucky high school quarterback since Tim Couch (in 1995)." Maggard thought Sindelar was a senior when he saw him play in the state finals two years ago. Sindelar threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 54 yards and a TD in Caldwell County's 30-26 loss to Newport Central Catholic. Maggard thinks Sindelar has the 'it" factor of leadership developed by also playing baseball and basketball. "I think quarterbacks hurt themselves today by specializing, by going to all these summer camps and seeking gurus, when they should be playing other sports and learning how to compete," Maggard said.
Madison Southern running back Damien Harris, who won the Gatorade award last year, missed four games this season with a knee injury.