You just can’t beat small-town football in our commonwealth.
Below you’ll find my week-by-week recommendation of football games and the small towns in which you should watch them. For the purposes of this exercise I’m excluding any games played in the 20 most populated Kentucky counties. They are, in order: Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Boone, Warren, Hardin, Daviess, Campbell, Madison, Bullitt, Christian, Oldham, McCracken, Pulaski, Laurel, Pike, Scott, Jessamine, Franklin and Boyd.
(All times are local to site)
Week 1 (Saturday, Aug. 18)
Wayne County vs. Frederick Douglass, 6 p.m. (at Danville): This could be interpreted as cheating, since the game doesn’t actually involve Boyle County or Danville, but it’s being played in Titletown so it *technically* fits the criteria. Douglass, the defending Lexington city champ and coming off a 10-3 season, is ranked in the Class 6A preseason top 10. Wayne County is a perennial contender in Class 4A. The winner starts its 2018 with a signature victory.
Boyle County population ranking: 35th
Week 2 (Friday, Aug. 24)
Hopkinsville at Mayfield, 7 p.m.: The Cardinals mauled the Tigers in Christian County last season en route to an appearance in the Class 2A finals. Hoptown managed a deep Class 4A playoff run in spite of a 1-6 start to its 2017 campaign. Expect both teams to be factors in Western Kentucky this year, and for the points to pile up in this one: Mayfield averaged 45.6 points while Hopkinsville averaged 30.2 last season.
Graves County population ranking: 27th
Week 3 (Friday, Aug. 31)
Fulton City at Fulton County, 7 p.m.: Fulton City had 45 boys enrolled last school year, the fewest among football-playing schools, while Fulton County had 84, the third-lowest total last school year (Jenkins was runner-up with 73). The host Bulldogs have lost 18 straight games, their last win coming against the Pilots on Sept. 2, 2016. Fulton County brought a 27-game losing streak into last season but finished 3-8. Two of those victories were versus Fulton City.
Fulton County population ranking: 116th
Week 4 (Friday, Sept. 7)
Western Hills at Bath County, 7:30 p.m.: Mr. Football frontrunner Wandale Robinson gets an opportunity to strut his stuff in Owingsville after hanging more than 300 total yards and six TDs on the Wildcats last year in Frankfort. Bath County should expect another massive season from Landan Swartz, who as a junior rushed for 2,196 yards (averaging exactly 200 yards per game) and 26 TDs. He also led the Wildcats with three interceptions last year.
Bath County population ranking: 88th
Week 5 (Friday, Sept. 14)
Collins at Boyle County, 7:30 p.m.: We return to Danville, where this week the defending Class 3A champion hosts Collins, a still-young school that has turned into a consistent challenger in Class 4A. Boyle brings back several big-time playmakers from its title club, including top receiver Reese Smith (offers include Cincinnati and Troy) and Landen Bartleson, a 6-1 lightning bug who’s been offered by Colorado, Louisville and Purdue. The Titans, a preseason top-five team in their class, boast an inexperienced, beefy line that should give the Rebels a good challenge heading into district play.
Boyle County population ranking: 35th
Week 6 (Friday, Sept. 21)
Glasgow at Franklin-Simpson, 7 p.m.: The Class 2A Scotties suffered three regular-season losses, all to higher-class foes, before falling to eventual state champ Danville in the state semifinals. One of those losses was to the Wildcats, last year’s 4A champ. Franklin-Simpson returns its top two rushers from that squad, Tre Bass and Carlos McKinney, along with Jackson Randolph, a 6-3, 290-pound lineman who’s headed to Louisville. Glasgow has a stud lineman of its own in Tanner Bowles, an Alabama commit.
Simpson County population ranking: 64th
Week 7 (Friday, Sept. 28)
Lincoln County at LaRue County, 7:30 p.m.: Anthony Adkins, a 6-4 senior, rose up the recruiting ranks this summer after in camps he tried defensive end, a position he’d never played before. It worked out, as the LaRue County standout committed to Louisville after a string of offers poured in. He scored 15 TDs (11 rushing, four receiving) for the Hawks last season. Lincoln County, a Class 5A team, is the first large program LaRue, a Class 3A school, has played since 2011, and the first one it has hosted since 2009 (a 51-41 loss to Central Hardin, a 6A program).
LaRue County population ranking: 79th
Week 8 (Friday, Oct. 5)
West Jessamine at Mercer County, 7:30 p.m.: Football fans in Harrodsburg can get a look at Eli Cox, a 6-4, 295-pound senior lineman who’s committed to UK, and a West Jessamine team that doubled its win total from 2016 (three) to 2017 (six) under first-year coach John Gilliam. Mercer County, a district rival, was ranked in the Class 4A preseason top 10 but lost several playmakers to graduation; by this point in the season it’ll know how well they’ve been replaced.
Mercer County population ranking: 53rd
Week 9 (Friday, Oct. 12)
Paintsville at Hazard, 7:30 p.m.: These two independent mountain schools have had memorable battles the last two seasons. The Bulldogs won a 20-7 bout for a trip to the 2016 Class A finals while Paintsville claimed a 12-7 decision in last year’s regular season, one of only two losses Hazard suffered before the playoffs. Hazard is ranked fourth in the preseason and the Tigers are right below at fifth; what more needs to be said?
Perry County population ranking: 42nd
Week 10 (Friday, Oct. 19)
Knox Central at Rockcastle County, 7:30 p.m.: The Panthers have gotten the better of Rockcastle County in this rivalry, taking 10 of the last 11 meetings. Both programs finished 8-4 last season but for most of this decade their respective seasons have diverged. Rockcastle won 10 games in 2016 while Knox won four; Knox won 10 times in 2012 but Rockcastle won only twice that season. Both are ranked in the preseason Class 4A top 10 — Rockcastle sixth and Knox eighth — and could better their win totals from last year.
Rockcastle County population ranking: 69th
Week 11 (Friday, Oct. 26)
Belfry at Johnson Central, 7:30 p.m.: Belfry saw its streak of four straight state titles come to an end last winter while Johnson Central made it back to the finals but got waxed by a foe it clobbered the year before. This is the final game for both teams prior to the postseason, meaning their complete rosters and/or playbooks might be reduced, but bragging rights between the mountains’ top two teams are still bragging rights. The Pirates became the first team in the series to win three straight games since it began in 2007. Belfry leads the series, 7-4.
Johnson County population ranking: 50th