High School Football

Will Kentucky high school football powers recover after seismic shift?

Bowling Green Coach Kevin Wallace got a hug from Logan Paris during the Class 5A title game, which extended the Purples' winning streak to 44 games, six shy of Trinity's record.
Bowling Green Coach Kevin Wallace got a hug from Logan Paris during the Class 5A title game, which extended the Purples' winning streak to 44 games, six shy of Trinity's record. AP

The landscape of Kentucky high school football underwent a seismic shift, or it was at least shaken by a few tremors, last season.

For the first time in 20 years neither St. Xavier or Trinity made the semifinals.

For the first time in 17 years, two public schools (Scott County and Meade County) met in the big-school state title game.

Collins surprised just about everybody by beating Highlands in the Class 4A finals, ending the Bluebirds' phenomenal run of six consecutive championships.

Pulaski County, Wayne County and Williamsburg, none of whom had any playoff pedigree, reached the state finals for the first time.

DeSales won its first state championship.

While perennial powers Mayfield (Class A), Belfry (3A) and Bowling Green (5A) took home big trophies, it was refreshing to see so many new faces in the finals.

Wayne County Coach Shawn Thompson said he thinks the Cardinals' breakthrough season "should give everybody a feeling they've got a chance to do it, too. You've gotta have a little luck and you've gotta have kids who stick with you for four years and believe in you, but we showed it can happen."

Everything may settle back into the same old rut this season. Let's hope not. As Elvis sang, bless his soul, it's fun to be all shook up.

No eye on that prize

Three-time defending Class 5A champion Bowling Green starts the season with a 44-game winning streak, third longest in state history.

But Purples Coach Kevin Wallace isn't looking ahead at the possibility of tying or breaking Trinity's state record of 50 victories in a row. "That's not worth getting caught up in," he said. "We'd have to upset three teams in our first five games even to have a chance to get to 50."

Bowling Green opens the season against Mercer County, plays Lexington Catholic on the road, hosts St. Xavier, visits Owensboro, hosts McCallie, Tenn., then visits Barren County. "I'd consider us underdogs against Lexington Catholic, St. X and McCallie," Wallace said.

The Purples graduated a ton of talent, including Nacarius Fant (Mr. Football). Wallace thinks this year's team could develop into a 5A contender by the end of the season, but he also knows his Purples are viewed as vulnerable this year.

"I don't blame anybody for thinking this is their chance to take a good swing at us," he said. "And somebody's probably going to connect and take us down."

Countdown to 400?

If Belfry's Philip Haywood sticks around another year or two, he'll likely be the first football coach in state history to reach 400 career victories. He's only 24 wins shy of that plateau, and Belfry has averaged 12 wins a season over the last 12 years.

Tom Larkey of Harlan County needs 10 wins to become only the eighth coach in state history to win 300 games.

Prime-time on ESPNU

Madison Southern's Damien Harris, the top-rated running back in the country, is the reason ESPNU will televise the Eagles' home game against Pulaski County on Oct. 10. Pulaski County Coach Johnny Hines knows that, but he also sees it as a chance for his Maroons "to sneak in and steal the show."

Pulaski County, Class 5A runner-up last year, was supposed to host the TV game. But after ESPNU checked out video of last year's playoff battle between the teams that was played in the mud at Pulaski County, the network stipulated it would televise the Oct. 10 game only if it was contested on Madison Southern's artificial turf. "It was too good an opportunity to haggle over something like that," Hines said. "They didn't want to take a chance on it being a mud bowl at our place."

Pulaski County beat Madison Southern twice last season, 21-18 in the regular season and 32-28 in the playoffs, despite Harris rushing for a total of 413 yards and five TDs.

1 0 othe r big-time circle-the-date games

Boyle County vs. Bullitt East, Aug. 22 in Death Valley Bowl at Lincoln County: Chuck Smith, who led Boyle County to five state titles (1999-2003), returns to coach the Rebels for the first time since 2004.

Bourbon County vs. Warren Central, Aug. 29 in Rebel Bowl at Boyle County: Bourbon County, which went unbeaten in the regular season last year, has a tough early test against the Dragons.

Bowling Green at Lexington Catholic, Aug. 29, 8:30 p.m.: Three-time defending Class 5A champ Bowling Green will likely bring a 45-game winning streak to town. Lexington Catholic has lost to the Purples the last two years.

Frankfort at Franklin County, Sept. 12: Class A Frankfort might have the talent to beat 5A Franklin County for the first time since 2009.

Williamsburg at Wayne County, Sept. 12: Last year's Class A runner-up visits last year's Class 3A runner-up.

Covington Catholic at Highlands, Sept. 26: CovCath hopes to halt an 11-game losing streak to its archrival.

Henry Clay at Scott County, Oct. 10: If this game is half as entertaining as Scott County's 37-34 playoff win over the Blue Devils last year, it'll still be a classic.

Male at Trinity, Oct. 17: Last year Male beat Trinity in the regular season and playoffs. You think Trinity remembers getting swept by the Bulldogs?

Belfry at Johnson Central, Oct. 31: Reigning 3A state champ Belfry's only loss last season was to the Golden Eagles.

Caldwell County at Mayfield, Oct. 31: Reigning Class A state champ Mayfield's only loss last season was to the Tigers.