High School Football

No blowouts here: A guide to high school football’s best first-round playoff games.

The first round of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Gridiron Bowl, the name it calls its postseason, has some intriguing matchups this week as district foes will begin to pick each other off.

While this stage has become notorious for blowout, running-clock mercy-rule affairs, there will be some close games.

The first two weeks of the playoffs now serve as district championships, a departure from how the postseason was run for more than a decade. And that makes these early games rematches of regular-season contests for the first time since 2007 — adding a possible revenge element for many that could be troublesome for teams that might have otherwise penciled the first-round in as a “W.”

Here are some of the best games of Round 1, class by class. All rankings are according to the KHSAA’s RPI system, which will be used to seed later rounds.

Class A

No. 12 Campbellsville at No. 8 Bethlehem.

Last meeting: Campbellsville (6-4) beat visiting Bethlehem 48-42 on Oct. 18, in a game where Campbellsville quarterback Arren Hash threw for 314 yards and five TDs. Bethlehem (7-2) running back Zane Wickliffe ran for 143 yards and four scores. Campbellsville won the turnover battle 2-1 with two interceptions.

No. 18 Lynn Camp at No. 13 Pineville

Last meeting: Pineville (8-2) won 14-6 on Oct. 11, as Colby Frazier rushed for 198 yards and a touchdown and Devon Morris tacked on 98 more with another score. Lynn Camp (4-5) suffered two of its losses by a single point to solid teams from bigger classes.

No. 19 Frankfort at No. 7 Eminence

Last meeting: Eminence (8-2) got four turnovers and routed the host Panthers 60-30 on Oct. 11, with running backs Marshall Metten and Dakadrian Saunders each rushing for more than 100 yards and three touchdowns. Frankfort (4-6) is coming off a 52-24 smashing of Fort Campbell, and quarterback Xavier Cleveland had success against the Warriors last time out, throwing for three touchdowns.

Complete Class A bracket

Class 2A

No. 8 Murray at No. 4 Caldwell County

Last meeting: Murray lost 42-40 at home on Oct. 18. The Tigers (7-3) had a chance to tie the game with under a minute left, but their two-point conversion failed. Murray has quarterback Hunter Utley, who’s thrown for over 2,300 yards and 30 TDs. Caldwell counters with a balanced attack that has gotten 15 TDs out of QB Russ Beshear and 18 scores from running back DeEric Hollowell. This might be the best game of the week.

Look no further than Class 2A’s District 1 to see how harsh intra-district playoffs are to teams from highly competitive areas. This district also has No. 2 Mayfield. Ouch.

No. 11 Newport at No. 10 Lloyd Memorial

Last meeting: Lloyd Memorial (6-4) won 26-7 at Newport on Oct. 11, getting 111 yards and three rushing TDs from QB Jacob Davidson and picking off Newport twice. The Wildcats (7-3) went unbeaten for five weeks before running into Newport Central Catholic and its district rivals, including No. 7 Beechwood.

No. 19 Leslie County at No. 14 Middlesboro

Last meeting: Middlesboro (7-3) won at Leslie County (5-4) 28-27 in overtime on Oct. 4, after stopping the Eagles’ two-point conversion attempt. The Yellowjackets got a huge play from Ethan Barton when he returned an interception 48 yards for a TD.

Lexington game in Class 2A — No. 13 Washington County at No. 1 Lexington Christian: LCA won 36-0 on Oct. 11.

Complete Class 2A bracket

Class 3A

No. 11 Christian Academy-Louisville at No. 8 Mercer County

Last meeting: The Titans (8-2) stunned the two-time state title holders 45-42 on Sept. 27, in Louisville thanks to three TDs and 179 yards from Malachi Yulee and two scores from QB Kaelin Drakeford. CAL’s Anthony Sabatino threw two interceptions in that game, but also had 289 yards passing and four touchdowns total, two in the air and two on the ground for the Centurions (6-4).

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Mercer County’s Brayden Dunn (28) scored a touchdown against Anderson County earlier this season. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

No. 23 Lawrence County at No. 15 Pike County Central

Last meeting: Pike County Central (7-3) topped the visiting Bulldogs 48-35 on Oct. 11. Lawrence County (4-6) got 172 rushing yards out of Fletcher Blue and 131 yards and five TDs from Baden Gillespie, but couldn’t outrun the Hawks who got more than 200 yards rushing from both Tyler Hunt and Matt Anderson, who scored five and two TDs, respectively.

No. 20 Estill County at No. 13 Rockcastle County

Last meeting: Rockcastle (7-3) topped the visiting Engineers 18-13 on Sept. 27. Estill (5-5) won the turnover battle 2-1, but the difference was a Christopher Mink punt return for a TD.

Complete Class 3A bracket

Class 4A

No. 7 Madisonville at No. 11 Logan County

Last meeting: Logan County (8-2) won 26-24 on Sept. 27 on a hail mary as time expired. Tyler Ezell’s 30-yard bomb was tipped in the air at the goal line and caught by Jaden Sells. Madisonville (8-2) had just taken the lead moments earlier. Ezell threw for 308 yards and two other scores. Madisonville’s workhorse running back Jeriah Hightower ran for 301 yards and a TD.

No. 10 Shelby County at No. 12 Central

Last meeting: Central (5-5), last year’s 3A champs, have taken their lumps in the move up to 4A, but handed Shelby County (6-4) a 14-0 defeat the Rockets’ home field on Oct. 4. The Yellowjackets had three interceptions in that game and got 134 yards rushing and a TD out of Dayshawn Mucker.

No. 17 Clay County at No. 8 Harlan County

Last meeting: Harlan County (7-3) won 21-7 on Sept. 27 with the help of two fumble recoveries and the rushing of Ben Landis, who totaled 151 yards and two touchdowns. Demarco Hopkins nearly reached 100 yards, as well, with a score. Clay County (7-3) has won four straight heading into the rematch and is led by running back Chandler Hibbard, who’s accumulated 1,831 rushing yards and 14 TDs.

Lexington game in Class 4A — No. 19 Bourbon County at No. 5 Lexington Catholic: LexCath won 48-15 on Oct. 18.

Complete Class 4A bracket

Class 5A

No. 9 Highlands at No. 10 Conner

Last meeting: Conner (7-3) won 20-17 on Oct. 4 at Highlands by scoring on an 81-yard drive that put it in front with 43 seconds left. The Cougars trailed 14-0 at halftime. QB Jared Hicks threw for 244 yards and two TDs including a 20-yarder to Drew Cobble for the game-winner. Highlands (6-4) got a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD from Brycen Huddleston to open the game.

No. 17 Southwestern at No. 7 Pulaski County

Last meeting: The Warriors (5-5) pulled off the 15-7 upset over their crosstown rivals in overtime on Oct. 25 at Pulaski as Tanner Wright plunged in from the 1-yard line. Pulaski (7-3), which lost standout QB Drew Polston to injury in the first half, could not answer.

No. 19 Woodford County at No. 18 Madison Southern

Last meeting: Madison Southern (5-5) won 40-7 at Woodford on Oct. 11 as the Eagles benefited from three Yellowjackets turnovers and 163 rushing yards and three TDs from Adrian Jones. Woodford (6-4) got 135 yards from Amartae Rice.

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Madison Southern’s Adrian Jones, right, scored three TDs in the regular-season game against Woodford County. Matt Goins Matt Goins

Lexington game in Class 5A — No. 34 Great Crossing at No. 2 Frederick Douglass (Thursday): Douglass won 50-0 on Oct. 18.

Complete Class 5A bracket

Class 6A

No. 21 Apollo at No. 7 McCracken County

Last meeting: McCracken County (7-3) won 81-51 at Apollo on Sept. 27. That is not a typo. The Mustangs’ Hunter Bradley ran for 403 yards and seven touchdowns. Though the Mustangs will be without Bradley due to injury, McCracken’s offense likely will remain potent. On the other side, Apollo (4-6) had Harold Hogg go for 358 yards and four TDs. Buckle up.

No. 12 Bullitt East at No. 6 Fern Creek

Last meeting: Fern Creek (7-3) won 21-18 at Bullitt East on Oct. 11 after Anthony Teague broke away for a 98-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. Bullitt East (5-5) had built a 12-0 lead on an 83-yard fumble recovery for a TD by Landon Maki early in the second quarter. But the Tigers responded with Terrance Mitchell TD runs of 62 and 78 yards to get back into it.

No. 15 Daviess County at No. 8 Henderson County

Last meeting: Daviess County (5-5) topped visiting Henderson County 30-27 in overtime on Oct. 18. At the end of the third quarter, Daviess led 10-3. At the end of regulation, it was 24-24 as both teams launched breathtaking rallies that included the Colonels (7-3) converting a fourth-and-17 for a 40-yard TD to tie it at 17 with 2:23 left. Henderson only managed a field goal in overtime as they opened the alternating possessions. Daviess scored a TD by Shane Riley to win it.

Lexington games in Class 6A — No. 26 Lafayette at No. 19 Paul Laurence Dunbar: Dunbar won 35-20 on Oct. 25; No. 32 Henry Clay at No. 10 Tates Creek: Creek won 32-0 on Oct. 25; No. 27 Bryan Station at No. 17 Oldham County: Oldham County won 41-28 on Oct. 18.

Complete Class 6A bracket

Jared Peck, the Herald-Leader’s Digital Sports Writer, covers high school athletics and has been with the company as a writer and editor for more than 19 years.
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