Nobody does this football playoffs thing better than Highlands, St. Xavier and Trinity, which have combined to win 48 state championships in 60 title-game appearances over the last 50 years.
When they take the field in the post-season, their opponents are usually at a disadvantage not just physically, but also mentally. When one team has a big edge in tradition, games are sometimes won by mind games even before the opening kickoff.
How do coaches prepare their teams to meet the Big Three in the playoffs?
Pulaski County Coach John Hines, whose Maroons visit Highlands in the Class 5A semifinals Friday night, has come up with a unique plan: "We're going up on Wednesday to scrimmage the Bengals to prepare for Highlands," Hines said with a laugh. "Seriously, we're trying to play it down as much as we can and treat it like just another game. Our kids know they're playing the best team in the state, so it's a no-lose situation for us. Our sole goal is to play the best game we've played all year."
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Greenwood Coach Mark Nelson is taking the same approach with his Gators, who play host to No. 1 St. Xavier in the 6A semifinals. On the advice of coaches who have faced St. X in these big-game situations, Nelson is preparing his team for the pre-game atmosphere when the Tigers trot out 100 or so players. "I've been told that if you haven't seen it before, you can get caught up in how awesome it all is. We don't want to be bothered by it. We'll remind our kids that the game is played between the lines, that nothing else matters."
Pulaski County and Greenwood are in the semifinals for the first time, so this is unchartered territory for them. Scott County, which visits Trinity in the 6A semifinals, has been here before. It faced St. X in the 2004 state finals. Scott County also used to regularly scrimmage Trinity in the pre-season, so Coach Jim McKee knows the challenge his team faces. "We call them the University of Trinity," he said. "We've dealt with them so many times on the freshman, junior varsity and varsity level. We know the huge advantages they have. Facts are facts, and you can't run from them."
McKee's focus is on his own team, not Trinity. "We know what we've got to do. We've got to take care of the ball, and we need to make plays. We know the animal we're fighting. I don't know if we can win the fight, but we know what we're up against."
■ Scott County and Trinity not only play each other in football this weekend, they also meet in basketball. They'll hook up in a pre-season scrimmage in the Fast Lane Classic at Sheldon Clark on Saturday night. The lineup: Lawrence County vs. Belfry, 10 a.m.; Bath County vs. Highlands, 11:30; Nelson County vs. Sheldon Clark (girls), 1; Scott County vs. Trinity, 2:30; Elliott County vs. Sheldon Clark, 4; Tates Creek vs. Huntington (W.Va.), 5:30; Clark County vs. Perry Central, 7; Shelby Valley vs. Logan (W.Va.), 8:30.
■ Former Tates Creek coach Roy Walton is still recuperating after unexpected surgery last week. That means the dinner and roast, scheduled for Monday at the Lansdowne Signature Club to mark his 80th birthday, has been postponed indefinitely.
■ Dudley Hilton has had good luck coaching against unbeaten Lawrence County teams. He's 3-0 with three shutouts. In 1997, Lawrence County was 13-0 before losing to Hilton's Bourbon County Colonels 14-0 in the 2A semifinals. In 2001, the Bulldogs were 11-0 before falling to Hilton's Bell County Bobcats 8-0 in the second round of the 3A playoffs. Last week Lawrence County took a 12-0 record to Log Mountain but lost to Bell County 41-0 in the 4A quarterfinals.
■ Defending state champ Bell County's visit to unbeaten Boyle County in the 4A semifinals looks like Friday's best matchup. It's a rematch from last year's semis, which Bell County won 17-15. It's also another big-game rematch between Bell County Coach Dudley Hilton and Boyle County Coach Larry French. In the 3A finals in 1991, Hilton guided Bell County past Meade County, which was coached by French.
■ Rob Lucas is an "interim" coach at Somerset, but that shouldn't keep him from being considered a candidate for coach of the year in Kentucky. After taking the reins from Jay Cobb just two weeks before the season started, Lucas has led Somerset to its best record in 25 years. The last time the Briar Jumpers were 13-0 was in 1984 before they lost to Newport Central Catholic in the playoffs. In 1983, Somerset took a 14-0 record to the state finals but lost to Fort Knox. The Jumpers, led by QB Erik Manning, play host to Sheldon Clark in Friday's 3A semifinals.
■ If Central is to three-peat as 3A champ, it will have to do it without star linebacker Tim Patterson, who's out with a knee injury. Patterson has scholarship offers from UK, Louisville and Arkansas. He also played for Central's state runner-up basketball team last season. His injury puts his hoops availability in doubt.
■ Simon Kenton's loss to St. Xavier brought an end to Miles Simpson's high school career. The Pioneers' star had sensational back-to-back seasons. After rushing for 2,309 yards and 37 TDs in 15 games last year, he ran for 2,227 yards and 38 TDs in 13 games this year to state his case for Mr. Football. Simon Kenton QB Chad Lawrence had a big senior year, too. He threw for 1,796 yards and 21 TDs and ran for 1,165 yards and 12 TDs.
■ Marion County visits unbeaten Lone Oak in the 4A semifinals. The Knights' only other appearance in the semifinals was in 1987 when they lost to Paducah Tilghman 42-0.
■ Fort Campbell's hopes for a third consecutive 2A state title were hanging in the balance when the Falcons were tied with Murray 21-21 in the final minute last week. But Antonio Andrews' 27-yard TD pass to Tre Powell with 14 seconds left gave Fort Campbell the victory. The Falcons have won 18 games in a row, and 40 of their last 41. They play Monroe County in Friday's semifinals. Fort Campbell beat Monroe County in last year's semis.
■ Paducah Tilghman's Josh Forrest picked up a Russellville fumble and returned it 67 yards for a TD in the closing minutes to give the Blue Tornado a 21-14 victory. Tilghman (7-6) pushed its record above .500 for the first time this season. It faces Central in the semifinals. The last time they met, Central beat the Tornado 17-14 in the 2007 semifinals.
■ Breathitt County standout Channing Fugate, who has committed to Tennessee, finished his career with 6,358 yards rushing and 102 TDs.
■ Clark County, No. 5 in the state in pre-season boys' basketball, beat defending champ and top-rated Holmes in a scrimmage last weekend. "No question it's a confidence boost for our guys," Clark County Coach Scott Humphrey said. "They've been working hard and, even though it was just a scrimmage, it was important to them. That being said, it will absolutely not phase Holmes one bit. They are still No. 1 and deservedly so."
■ Anderson County boys' basketball coach Glen Drury, one of the nicest guys in the business, received a nice surprise last Saturday when the gym floor at Anderson County was renamed Glen Drury Court. In his 22 years with the Bearcats, Drury's teams have won 386 games, including two 8th Region titles. He also played on Anderson County's 1974 Sweet Sixteen team.
■ Kirk Chiles, who won more than 600 games as a college and high school basketball coach, will share his expertise on WLXG-AM 1300 starting Dec. 5. Chiles, who retired as Henry Clay coach after the 2006 season, will team with Chris Elliott on a weekly one-hour show that will air Saturdays two hours prior to UK's tip-off. On Dec. 5, for example, UK plays North Carolina at 12:30 p.m. Chiles' show will be on at 10:30 a.m.
■ Kentucky Basketball Academy will host a pre-season showcase in Rupp Arena on Saturday, with scrimmages starting at 8:45 a.m. and finishing around 10 p.m. The schedule: Clays Mill Baptist vs. Trinity Christian; Bluegrass United vs. Bracken County; Buckhorn vs. Carroll County; Barbourville vs. Pendleton County; Marion County vs. Lincoln County (girls); Kentucky middle school girls' state finals; East Jessamine vs. Whitley County; LCA vs. South Laurel; LaRue County vs. Southwestern; Oldham County vs. Henderson County; Clay County vs. McCreary Central.
■ Former Paul Laurence Dunbar pitcher Chad Martin, who missed most of his sophomore season at Vincennes last spring because of illness, signed with Indiana University. Martin is a 6-foot-7 right-hander with a fastball that has been clocked at more than 90 mph. He played on Dunbar's 2007 state title team.
■ Paintsville graduate Berry Ward has been named Pikeville College's scout team player of the year. He is a 6-1, 225-pound linebacker.