It took 30 years to get here, but the Lafayette Generals are hoping the third time’s the charm as they prepare for their latest appearance in a state championship game.
Lafayette (12-2) lost to Trinity 28-7 in the 1985 finals. Until Saturday that was the only title game they’d played in since 1960, when Highlands defeated the Generals 21-13.
This edition of the Generals isn’t so much concerned with the past as it is continuing to write its own story Lafayette started the season with two blowout wins in August before crashing in September with a 70-14 loss to Trinity. Things seemed to be in order again after another Generals rout, but then they gave up 65 points to Scott County.
Lafayette Coach Eric Shaw acknowledged those outcomes were potentially season-wrecking moments for his team, which has since reeled off nine straight wins.
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“This thing ain’t been easy,“ Shaw said. “There’s been a lot of things that could’ve turned this thing the wrong way very, very early. 70 to 14 and 65 to 46. Those (losses) could have really turned this thing into something else. But it didn’t.”
The Generals have trailed in the second half of each of their previous five games, the last two at Scott County (36-30 in the region finals) and at Simon Kenton (42-28 in the state semis). Overcoming double-digit deficits in each of those games made Lafayette the first Lexington city school to reach the finals since football went to six classes and the first to reach any championship since Bryan Station in 1999. The last one to win it all? Henry Clay in 1981.
Lafayette would love to get out to faster starts, but at this point the comebacks are as much a part of the team as the red on its uniforms.
“We’re nasty and we don’t give up,” junior defensive lineman Xavier Douglas said. “ … I wish we could start fast, but I like winning. It builds character winning from behind.”
Shaw doesn’t expect his players to be robots who make perfectly-calculated plays without errors or emotion getting in the way. The plan every week is simple: max out every snap to the best of your ability and let the chips fall where they may.
I know that here in Lexington it’s been a long time coming. Why it’s been a long time coming, I can’t answer that. But it’s about time.
Eric Shaw, Lafayette football coach
It’s a formula that’s not always pretty, but has shown itself to be especially rewarding as the Generals get ready for undefeated and No. 1 Male (14-0).
“Everyone plans to play in the final game of whatever class they’re in,“ Shaw said. “You’re playing for those things but you really can’t plan for the process and what happens along the way. You just enjoy it.”
But what if Lafayette goes down, say, 14-0 to a Bulldogs defense that’s allowed a state-low 79 points in 2015?
“If that’s what happens, that’s what happens,” quarterback Walker Wood said. “I think our team has done a really great job these last couple of weeks fighting and finding a way to win the game. So if that’s how it goes I guess we’ll have to figure out a way. But until then we won’t know.”
Wood, a University of Kentucky commit, has put together a strong case for Mr. Football despite being a junior. He’s thrown 20 touchdowns, rushed for 21 scores and has scored six two-point conversions. For the second straight season, he finished among the Class 6A leaders in both passing (2,360 yards) and rushing (1,505).
Juniors have in the past been nominated, but traditionally the Mr. Football award only goes to seniors, so Wood’s teammate Mason Alstatt could end up being the torchbearer. He leads Lafayette in rushing at 1,572 yards. He’s rushed for 17 TDs, caught three and has returned seven kicks for scores — including two returns for the Generals’ only scores at Trinity.
Getting down to Bowling Green on Thursday night to have a couple days to get acclimated to the area and slight time difference would be beneficial to Lafayette, Alstatt said. It allows them to focus on getting themselves mentally together and on the big task before them.
It’s gonna be the first time all year without a doubt that we’re gonna face a team whose offensive line is bigger than our defensive line.
Chris Wolfe, Male football coach
Lafayette has enough talent to challenge Male, especially on an interior which includes UK commit Landon Young and five-star junior Jedrick Wills, but the Generals can’t afford to make any mistakes against the Bulldogs or give up a ton of penalties as they did last week at Simon Kenton.
“You can’t have 14 penalties against Male,“ Alstatt said. “Something like that can put you down. If we’re just mistake-free we can get the win.”
Shaw hopes the Generals’ run to the title can stand as a turning point for Lexington high school football. The fellow city teams have gotten behind them, showing their support through everything from social-media hashtags to flowers. It’s Lafayette who’s been picked to lead the charge and they plan to do “everything we possibly can in our power to give a good showing,” Shaw said.
“I know that here in Lexington it’s been a long time coming. Why it’s been a long time coming, I can’t answer that. But it’s about time.”
The last several weeks have been tough. Shaw’s lost a lot of sleep, not out of concern but out of eagerness to finally see this peak and a goal set in the summer nearly realized. Whatever happens Saturday, the journey has been transformative for himself and the players he calls his “sons.” Said Shaw:
“They have embraced it in a manner that I wouldn’t trade them for anyone whether we get beat 50 to nothing. That don’t even matter. What matters is what we have overcome to be in this position and have a chance to do something bigger than us. That’s the state championship to me.”
Male vs. Lafayette
Kickoff: 6 p.m. EST Saturday at Western Kentucky University’s L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green
Cantrall Ratings: Male 98.0, Lafayette 86.5
Final AP ranking: Male No. 1, Lafayette No. 7
Previous championship appearances (record): Male 9 (6-3), Lafayette 2 (0-2)
Male history: The last time Male finished a season undefeated? 1964, when it defeated Eastern 27-0 in the Class 3A finals. The 1963 edition of the Bulldogs also finished without a loss. Male’s last championship came in 2000 after blowing by Trinity 34-14. They are 0-3 in their appearances since then — all to the Shamrocks. The Bulldogs last met a Lexington team in the finals in 1998; they defeated Tates Creek 31-7 for their fifth state title.
Male leaders: Devin Gentry (1,015 rushing yards with 18 TDs; 356 receiving yards with five scores), Hayden Shelton (2,439 passing yards with 26 TDs/four interceptions; 188 rushing yards with six TDs), Zackery Smith (890 receiving yards with 13 TDs), Marcus Clark (463 receiving yards with seven TDs), Kameron Cuff (three interceptions, 26 tackles), Jack Kuerzi (74 tackles), Zachary Hall (68 tackles; one interception returned for TD), Nathan Hobbs (three interceptions, two returned for TDs)
Lafayette leaders: Walker Wood (2,360 yards passing with 20 TDs/six interceptions; 1,505 rushing yards with 21 TDs), Mason Alstatt (1,572 rushing yards with 17 TDs; 263 receiving yards with three TDs; seven kicks returned for scores), Quinten Brown (1,146 receiving yrds with eight TDs), Matthew Guilfoil (414 receiving yards with four TDs), Javarus Blair (two interceptions; 74 tackles), Ean Shaw (106 tackles; two two-point conversions), Camron Morgan (62 tackles)
Coach: Chris Wolfe
Floyd Central (Ind.), 41-0 (W)
at Ballard, 45-7 (W)
Fairdale, 64-6 (W)
Trinity, 42-13 (W)
at Seneca, 63-0 (W)
Butler, 57-0 (W)
at St. Xavier, 27-24 (W)
at Manual, 43-7 (W)
Western, 56-0 (W)
Jeffersontown, 49-3 (W)
Manual, 36-0 (W)
Trinity, 20-19 (W)
at Central Hardin, 50-0 (W)
Coach Wolfe: “What we are concerned about, is it’s gonna be the first time all year without a doubt that we’re gonna face a team whose offensive line is bigger than our defensive line. We’ve have that advantage all year and you can see by our rush defense (696 yards allowed all season) that we’ve been able to control the line of scrimmage. ... It’s gonna be a dogfight up front.
“Compounding that is the Wood kid, who’s the best quarterback I’ve seen. Run, pass, competitiveness. You can see it on film. The kid does just not go down on the first hit. ... The kid’s fantastic. I’d vote for him Mr. Football. The running back, (Mason Alstatt), once he finds a crease he’s gone. He’s a special kid, too. They’ve got an elite talented offense. They’ve found their groove.”
Coach: Eric Shaw
Paul Laurence Dunbar, 43-21 (W)
vs. Mercer County at Boyle County, 53-13 (W)
at Trinity, 70-14 (L)
Boone County, 56-7 (W)
Scott County, 65-45 (L)
at Henry Clay, 48-34 (W)
at Bryan Station, 19-12 (W)
Clark County, 43-13 (W)
at Madison Central, 45-28 (W)
at Tates Creek, 29-28 (W)
Paul Laurence Dunbar, 27-21, OT (W)
Henry Clay, 35-28 (W)
at Scott County, 36-30 (W)
at Simon Kenton, 42-28 (W)