High School Sports

Eleven must-see small-town football games in 2016

Belfry fans cheer their team to a 36-0 lead in the first half. The Lexington Catholic Knights played the Belfry Pirates in the KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl, Class 3A Championship, Sunday, Dec. 06, 2015 at L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green.
Belfry fans cheer their team to a 36-0 lead in the first half. The Lexington Catholic Knights played the Belfry Pirates in the KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl, Class 3A Championship, Sunday, Dec. 06, 2015 at L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green.

Half the fun of high school sports is venturing into towns you’ve barely heard about and engaging with the communities that make them places you never want to leave.

Let’s get outside of Kentucky’s 20 most-populated counties (in order: Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Boone, Warren, Hardin, Daviess, Campbell, Madison, Bullitt, Christian, McCracken, Oldham, Pulaski, Pike, Laurel, Scott, Jessamine, Franklin, Boyd) and see some games worth celebrating each week.

(All times are local to site)

Week 0 (Aug. 19)

Hazard at Pineville, 7:30 p.m.: The Mountain Lions welcome a consistent Class A power to Bell County after falling twice to the Bulldogs on the road in 2015. Tuck Woolum is the small school’s leading returning passer, and he has Will Adams and Nike Mason — two top-15 receivers in the class last year — back, too. Bell County population ranking: 40th

Week 1 (Aug. 26)

Owensboro at Madisonville, 7 p.m.: Since winning back-to-back bouts with Owensboro in 2011 and 2012, the Maroons are on a five-game losing streak in the series. Hopkins County population ranking: 22nd

Week 2 (Sept. 2)

Danville at Boyle County, 7:30 p.m.: It will be a dark day for Kentucky high school football when this annual rivalry stops making lists like this. The host Rebels have taken three straight from the Admirals. Boyle County population ranking: 35th

Week 3 (Sept. 9)

Southwestern at Mercer County, 7:30 p.m.: Each school was a top-10 preseason selection in its respective class. Last season the Titans were walloped down in Pulaski County; does a deep group of returning seniors and juniors have what it take to flip the script? Mercer County population ranking: 53rd

Week 4 (Sept. 16)

Allen Central at South Floyd, 7:30 p.m.: These teams combined to go 8-13 last season and have managed one playoff win between them this century. Why does it matter? Next season the two schools will consolidate into Floyd Central, marking the end of this rivalry. Which mountain squad will get final bragging rights? Floyd County population ranking: 27th

Week 5 (Sept. 23)

Russellville at Murray, 7 p.m.: This cat fight pits an experienced group of Panthers — who last season were moments away from their first finals berth since 1990 — against a group of host Tigers whose up-and-down 2015 included a convincing road win over this opponent. Calloway County population ranking: 26th

Week 6 (Sept. 30)

Wayne County at Rockcastle County, 7:30 p.m.: For whatever reason, most of the state’s attention will be centered on two massive private schools playing at Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville this Friday. This matchup, which could decide who gets top billing in Class 4A, District 6, also deserves your time. Rockcastle County population ranking: 69th

Week 7 (Oct. 7)

Prestonsburg at Leslie County, 7:30 p.m.: The Eagles lost Louisville-bound offensive lineman Blake Asher but return a great deal of talent from a squad that shocked the Blackcats on the road last season. Leslie County population ranking: 96th

Week 8 (Oct. 14)

Shelby County at Spencer County, 7:30 p.m.: After starting with a school-best 8-0 record, the Bears stumbled on the road last year against a Shelby County team that reached the state semifinals. Will home field be able to sway things their way this time? Spencer County population ranking: 64th

Week 9 (Oct. 21)

Gallatin County at Owen County, 7:30 p.m.: Since this series began in 2006 (when the Wildcats program came into existence), it’s quietly become one of Kentucky’s most competitive rivalries. The squads are 5-5 against each other all-time, with the Wildcats winning the first three games before the Rebels reeled off four straight wins. Owen County snapped a two-game win streak by Gallatin with an 8-6 road victory last season. Owen County population ranking: 95th

Week 10 (Oct. 28)

Belfry at Johnson Central, 7:30 p.m.: Maybe the most impressive Belfry team ever put together comes to Paintsville in a battle for Eastern Kentucky bragging rights. The only downside is each team may be tempted to rest their best with the playoffs forthcoming. Johnson County population ranking: 50th

Josh Moore: 859-231-1307, @HLpreps

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