If tradition holds, the potential for first-round snoozers in the Russell Athletic/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl high school football playoffs is strong.
But, that doesn’t mean the opening round is devoid of potential excitement. The five first-round matchups below might be the state’s best chance at producing entertaining contests on Friday.
Greenwood (3-7) at Apollo (7-3)
Their records might be inversed but these two western Kentucky foes are separated by only 5.5 points in the Class 5A Cantrall Ratings. Injuries and midseason departures derailed the Gators after back-to-back strong seasons, but they could salvage 2017 with an upset of the upstart Eagles on the road.
Henry Clay (5-5) at Madison Central (6-4)
The Indians, rated 10th in Class 6A, have won three straight games. The last time they met Henry Clay, ranked 13th, in the postseason, they fell, 50-9 on the road, their fourth straight loss in the series dating back to 2012. Henry Clay has won three of its last four contests and finished at .500 after dropping its first three games of the year against teams ranked in the top 10 of their respective classes (Johnson Central, Ryle and Tates Creek).
Garrard County (3-7) at Fleming County (8-2)
At first glance the disparity between their records is off-putting, but the Golden Lions are actually favored according to the Class 3A Cantrall Ratings (50.6 rating over a 44.3 rating for Fleming). Garrard’s lost five straight but its district — Boyle County, Lexington Catholic and Western Hills — is annually one of the strongest in the class. The Panthers own the best win between the pair — a 35-30 road victory at Russell.
Mercer County (5-5) at Franklin County (5-5)
This pair had never met on the gridiron before until an early neutral-site meeting at Boyle County, won 35-25 by the Titans. Franklin County, now rated half a point better than Mercer in the Class 4A Cantrall Ratings, will get a chance to even the series at home.
Western Hills (7-3) at Russell (5-5)
While the Wolverines are rated 5.8 points higher than Russell in the Class 3A rankings, Russell’s the one with home-field advantage and a more storied football history; if not for Belfry’s incredible run over the last half decade, the Red Devils might have added another title or two to their résumé (they’ve won two, one in 1978 and another in 2005). For Western Hills it might simply come down to Wandale Robinson, a University of Kentucky recruiting target, simply owning the night in Greenup County.