High School Football

Ranking the 10 best football games in Kentucky this week (Aug. 24-25, 2018)

Henry Clay’s Nate Steiner (8) and Dorien Hardin (6) were pumped up for their game against Tates Creek last Friday. The Blue Devils will be tested this Friday by defending Class 5A state champion Covington Catholic.
Henry Clay’s Nate Steiner (8) and Dorien Hardin (6) were pumped up for their game against Tates Creek last Friday. The Blue Devils will be tested this Friday by defending Class 5A state champion Covington Catholic. aslitz@herald-leader.com

The second week of the Kentucky high school football season is upon us. For some, it’s the start of their 2018 campaign. Others will look to sustain momentum after Week 1 victories or hope to get in the win column after suffering defeat last weekend.

Here are, in my opinion, the 10 most compelling football games this week in Kentucky, in descending order.

10. Capital (W.Va.) at Johnson Central

The No. 3 team in West Virginia’s highest division enters looking for its first win in a series that began in 2016. Johnson Central will start its 2018 season looking toward December and a fourth straight appearance in the Class 4A championship game.

9. Warren Central (Ind.) at Trinity

The Shamrocks’ state-best 30-game win streak came to an end with a 24-21 loss to Carmel, Ind., last Friday. Warren Central, the No. 3 team in Indiana’s highest class, comes in 1-0 and looking to avenge a 42-41 defeat at home to Trinity from a year ago. ESPNU will televise the game, which is set to kick off at 6 p.m.

8. Hazard at Harlan County

I’m a sucker for small schools taking on big schools. Hazard, a Class A stalwart, started last last year by winning the first-ever meeting between these two programs, 17-6, and went on to a 9-3 season and a region finals appearance. It is again the season opener for the Bulldogs; Harlan County lost to Class 4A contender Ashland Blazer, 49-6, on the road last week. Last year’s loss to Hazard was the start of a four-game losing streak, after which the Black Bears righted the ship and reached the Class 5A state semifinals.

7. Hopkinsville at Mayfield

Hoptown didn’t have much for South Warren in a 49-17 defeat last week. Such was the case last year, too, when a loss to the Spartans kicked off a four-game losing streak to begin the Tigers’ 2017 season, a campaign that ended with five straight wins before a loss in the region finals. Mayfield, coming off a victory over Union City, Tenn., whipped Hopkinsville last year (49-20) and was the preseason favorite in Class 2A this year.

6. Lexington Christian Academy at Pikeville

The Panthers shut out Covington Holy Cross, and LCA kept Waggener at bay to help make the first matchup of 1-0 squads on the list. Last year the Eagles went to Pikeville and handed the Panthers a 49-21 loss, the first of four straight defeats before they ultimately reached the Class A semifinals. LCA graduated several starters from a team that made the region finals for a second straight year, and this will be the first big road test for its talented youngsters. It’s late, too: This one doesn’t kick off until 9 p.m. Saturday.

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5. Pleasure Ridge Park at Bowling Green

PRP had two players, Aaron Kinnebrew and quarterback Maurice Sodja, rush for more than 100 yards last week in a 37-6 win over Valley. This week’s opponent should be a better gauge of how big a challenger PRP, just on the outside of the preseason top 10, can be in Class 6A in 2018. The Purples scored a 20-13 victory over Class 6A Central Hardin at WKU in Mark Spader’s debut as head coach. Junior superstar Vito Tisdale, who added an offer from LSU to his lengthy list this week, rushed for 146 yards but scored only one time on a return last week.

4. Ballard at Male

Boyle County opened its Class 3A title defense in style with a 35-21 victory over Ballard, a preseason top 10 team in Class 6A with multiple FBS prospects on its roster. The Bruins won’t get a break for a while — up next week is a trip to Class 4A contender Collins, then home dates with giant-killer Central and fellow Class 6A challenger Manual — so a strong rebound against No. 4 Male would be a big deal. The Bulldogs were in Indiana last week and dismantled Floyd Central, 41-3, which was the fewest points they’ve allowed in a regular-season contest since 2016. Ballard hasn’t beaten Male since 2009, a 7-3 affair.

3. Wayne County at Pulaski County

I suspected Frederick Douglass would defeat Wayne County in Week 1 but was surprised by the final score — the Broncos took it to the perennial Class 4A contenders in a neutral site meeting. The optimistic point: it was the third time in the last four seasons the Cardinals dropped their season opener, and the previous three seasons have each ended in a trip to the state semifinals. Pulaski County, a Week 1 winner over Clarksville (Tenn.) Northwest, lost a two-point heart-breaker at Wayne County last year and will meet a group of highly motivated Cardinals this week. A win here would go a long way toward proving that Pulaski County is “back” after a down year in 2017.

2. Covington Catholic vs. Henry Clay

This game, the first of a doubleheader in the Traditional Bank Bluegrass Bowl at Lexington Catholic, pits defending Class 5A champion Covington Catholic — owner of a 16-game win streak after a 40-7 shellacking of Ryle last week — against Henry Clay, whose offense wreaked havoc on Tates Creek after being shut out against the Commodores each of the previous two seasons. I’m excited to witness how the Blue Devils perform against a defense that allowed 7.7 points per game last year and, for at least a week, maintained that average. A solid offensive outing could make Henry Clay a member of the first top 10 Associated Press ranking on Monday afternoon; a win would guarantee a spot on that list.

1. Danville at Corbin

Danville’s current 16-game win streak is tied with CovCath for the most in Kentucky entering this week. The Admirals for the second straight season opened their year with a shutout — 40-0 over Woodford County — but this week meet a team that played for the Class 3A championship in 2017. Both teams entered the year with unknowns related to their offenses and neither struggled in Week 1, but Week 2 presents a tougher challenge for each unit. This Saturday kickoff could be a classic; if you can’t get excited about two unafraid, perennial title contenders facing off this early in the season, then you’re not a Kentucky football fan.