Aside from an electrifying 152-point shootout between Lawrence County and Western Hills and a few defensive nail-biters, the first round of the Kentucky high school football playoffs was about as unflattering as usual.
The average margin of victory for the 90 games played last Friday was 32.5 points — 3.5 points away from the 36 needed to put a running clock into effect during play. Seven games were decided by single digits — including Breathitt County’s 7-6 decision over McCreary Central — but just as many were decided by at least 60 points (Trinity had the high mark in a 69-0 win over Muhlenberg County). Thirty-one games had a margin of at least 40 points.
But, the annual week of embarrassment is over and the second round is upon us. There are no guarantees it will produce classic games — routs aplenty are still possible — but it has several matchups that, on paper, should make for a more compelling week of gridiron action. Here are the best five.
Butler at St. Xavier
The Tigers — whose 68-0 win over Ohio County had the second-highest margin of victory last week — claimed a 14-6 decision at Butler in the regular season to clinch home-field advantage for this rematch. St. X limited the Bears — one of the most potent offenses in Class 6A — to 87 total yards and without a touchdown until the final minutes in that first meeting.
Demontae Crumes, a senior who’s committed to UK, is sixth in the class with 817 yards on 38 receptions and had caught 14 TDs for Butler. Both defenses are among the best in 6A — the Bears rate fifth at 12 points allowed per game while St. X is right behind them at 13.5 ppg.
Highlands at Anderson County
How far can Anderson County go? The Bearcats went 10-0 but only four of those victories were against teams that finished with winning records and just two of those were against teams in Class 5A or higher— a 42-34 decision at district rival Montgomery County and a 41-0 home shutout of Class 6A Clark County, which was eliminated last week. That’s not to take anything away from Anderson County — going undefeated is a heck of an achievement — but Highlands, on paper, seems to be tougher than any team it will have played this year.
The Bluebirds dropped only two games — a 21-14 battle against defending 5A champ Covington Catholic and a 28-7 weather-shortened contest against Scott County — and cruised otherwise. Anderson had the advantage of a first-round bye to nurse any nagging injuries and prevent others from forming, and has a top-five running back in sophomore Charles Collins (1,255 yards and 20 TDs) going against a defense ranked in the bottom half of the class against the run. Highlands will try to negate that advantage with one of its own — senior signal-caller Grady Cramer ranks eighth in 5A with 1,834 passing yards and is second with 32 TD throws.
Logan County at Franklin-Simpson
It might be the case that Logan County — a statewide darling last season after a 12-0 start following several years in the basement — lays an egg again in round two against a more battle-tested opponent (as it did versus Hopkinsville last season), but if the Cougars are on track then they could bust a lot of brackets across the state.
Logan County ranks first in Class 4A scoring defense (8.6 ppg) and boasts one of the state’s top tackles in Caden McKinnis, a senior who recently committed to Austin Peay. It’ll need every bit he can give against one of the best rushing offenses in the state. Tre Bass and Carlos McKinney both rank in the top 10 as individual rushers and have combined for 2,772 yards and 40 TDs for Franklin-Simpson, the defending 4A champion and a finalist in 2016.
Paducah Tilghman at Elizabethtown
Want to talk about balance in the backfield? Tilghman ranks sixth in Class 3A rushing with more than 3,000 yards but doesn’t have a single rusher ranked in the top 30. The Blue Tornado were on the wrong side of a rout at Class 2A contender Mayfield (51-27) and took a 37-22 loss at home to fellow 3A challenger Caldwell County, but otherwise they’ve fared more than well under first-year coach Jonathan Smith.
E-town has a curious résumé The Panthers dropped their first three games — two against title favorites (Christian Academy of Louisville and Franklin-Simpson) and the other against a talent-laden North Hardin squad on the road — before piling up six straight wins against like competition. They dropped their regular-season finale — 35-34 against a strong Glasgow squad — before waxing Trigg County last week. The Panthers are considerably stronger through the air than Tilghman but neither tosses it around a lot.
Scott County at Frederick Douglass
The first meeting between these two was not quite as dramatic as neutral fans might have hoped — Douglass took a 28-10 decision — but this rematch still has a chance to be the best game in the bottom half of the 6A bracket. Scott County last time came in after a loss to Henry Clay that was brutal beyond the final score — it lost junior linebacker Sam Daniel for the season and senior standout Glenn Covington for the game at Douglass the following week. The Cardinals have since won three straight, including a running-clock win at Campbell County to open the postseason.
Scott County will still have a tough task with Covington and its confidence back; Douglass is tied with Central and Male for second statewide in scoring defense (6.7 ppg), albeit against a softer schedule than those Louisville powers. The Broncos steamrolled Lexington, and have still yet yet to drop a game against a city foe in their program’s two-year history. A class-best offense (41.7 ppg) is led by a pair of talented transfers in Cam Jones — a 6-foot-8 Cincinnati commit who last week became the 11th quarterback in KHSAA history to reach 10,000 passing yards — and Damarco Fishback, a one-time defensive back at Lafayette who’s wreaked havoc in a switch to the backfield, rushing for 1,124 yards and a class-high 20 TDs.
Ten more solid showdowns
▪ Cooper at Conner (6A)
▪ Danville at Somerset (2A)
▪ Franklin Co. at Wayne Co. (4A)
▪ Hopkinsville at Madisonville (4A)
▪ Lexington Catholic at Belfry (3A)
▪ Lincoln Co. at Pulaski Co. (5A)
▪ Male at North Hardin (6A)
▪ Southwestern at Harlan Co. (5A)
▪ Tates Creek at Madison Central (6A)
▪ Williamsburg at Hazard (A)