Football’s awesome. Small-town football’s even more awesome.
For the purposes of these recommendations I’m excluding the 20 most populated Kentucky counties. They are, in order: Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Boone, Warren, Hardin, Daviess, Campbell, Madison, Bullitt, Christian, McCracken, Oldham, Pulaski, Pike, Laurel, Scott, Jessamine, Franklin and Boyd.
Now, without further ado, here are my picks for the must-see football games at small-town sites for each week of the 2017 regular season.
(All times are local to site)
Week 0 (Saturday, Aug. 19)
Frederick Douglass at Danville, 8:15 p.m.: Lexington’s newest high school will make its gridiron debut in Titletown. Danville is one of the state’s perennial small-school contenders and made a run to the Class 2A finals last season. Don Harris rushed for nearly 1,300 yards as a junior for the Admirals.
Boyle County population ranking: 36th
Week 1 (Friday, Aug. 25)
Betsy Layne at Floyd Central, 7:30 p.m.: The Jaguars, newly formed after the consolidation of Allen Central and South Floyd, will host the Bobcats in their home debut following a road contest at Harlan the week before.
Floyd County population ranking: 26th
Week 2 (Friday, Sept. 1)
Fulton County at Fulton City, 7 p.m.: It doesn’t get any more small-town than this: The state’s smallest football-playing school (46 boys in 2016-17) hosts the state’s third-smallest football-playing school (78 boys) in a battle of county rivals. Fulton City seeks its fifth straight win in the series. The Pilots, who will host the Bulldogs on Oct. 20, enter the season on a 27-game losing streak.
Fulton County population ranking: 115th
Week 3 (Friday, Sept. 8)
McCracken County at Mayfield, 7 p.m.: This annual battle between one of Kentucky’s small-school titans (Mayfield, a Class 2A program) and a fledgling behemoth (McCracken, a Class 6A school that opened in 2013) has never failed to deliver. Two of the four contests have went into overtime and the widest margin of victory has been six points. The series is tied at 2-2.
Graves County population ranking: 28th
Week 4 (Friday, Sept. 15)
Kentucky Country Day at Bethlehem, 7 p.m.: Coach Jesse Cantrall, the offensive coordinator at Lexington Catholic the previous three seasons, takes over a Bethlehem program that reached new heights under previous head coach Ron Koontz, who left for health reasons. Ending a three-game losing streak to KCD would be a nice feather in the first-year coach’s cap.
Nelson County population ranking: 23rd
Week 5 (Friday, Sept. 22)
Breathitt County at Knott County Central, 7:30 p.m.: Cameron Jones — the 6-foot-8 quarterback who threw for more than 2,500 yards and had 27 touchdowns last season — is poised to become a household name for the Patriots. He could boost his profile in Hindman with a win over the Bobcats, who’ve dominated the series lately; Breathitt County has won convincingly all 10 times the teams have played since the turn of the century.
Knott County population ranking: 71st
Week 6 (Friday, Sept. 29)
Paris at Bracken County, 7:30 p.m.: Leading rusher Nick Parker graduated, but Tad Fisher and Griffin Appleman — who were right on Parker’s heels in terms of total yardage — are back for the Polar Bears, who put together a historic season in 2016. The battle between these tiny district foes in Bourbon County was one of last year’s best games, period.
Bracken County population ranking: 106th
Week 7 (Friday, Oct. 6)
Anderson County at Woodford County, 7:30 p.m.: This will be the first district game of the season for both Class 5A teams. The Yellow Jackets have not yet won a district game under third-year head coach Dennis Johnson but were achingly close to turning that tide before leaving Anderson County with a 10-7 defeat last year.
Woodford County population ranking: 44th
Week 8 (Friday, Oct. 13)
Taylor County at Mercer County, 7:30 p.m.: Senior wide receiver Trevon Faulkner — a likely Mr. Basketball candidate — could carve out a Mr. Football candidacy as well if he shows out for the host Titans this season. The Cardinals, helmed by first-year coach Jason Foley, haven’t defeated Mercer County, led by first-year coach David Buchanan (previously at Mason County) since moving into its district in 2011.
Mercer County population ranking: 54th
Week 9 (Friday, Oct. 20)
Murray at Ballard Memorial, 7:30 p.m.: Might a 15-game losing streak be halted this night? The host Bombers last defeated Murray 18-10 on Sept. 21, 2001, but have lost every meeting in the rivalry since. They came as close as they have in a while before the Tigers came out with a 35-32 decision at home last year. Memorial lost several skill guys but returns Erick Marinelli, who put up strong passing numbers (1,890 yards, 28 TDs with five interceptions) as a sophomore.
Ballard County population ranking: 109th
Week 10 (Friday, Oct. 27)
Pikeville at Tolsia (W.Va.), 7:30 p.m.: Okay, it’s not in Kentucky. But, Tolsia is right across the Big Sandy River and is a two-time state champion in West Virginia’s Class 2A division, the state’s second largest. So, it should provide a great end-of-season test for the Panthers as they look to rekindle their championship flame from two years ago.
Wayne County (W.Va.) population ranking if it were in Kentucky: 26th