Archive for September, 2007

Lincoln's litmus test

If you want to take the temperature of Lincoln County’s football season, you need look no further than the Patriots’ annual game with Rockcastle County.

In the seven years since these neighbors renewed their rivalry, Rockcastle has always provided a stern test, and the result of this game has almost always been a pretty good indicator of how Lincoln’s season turned out. Here’s a breakdown:

  • 2000: The Death Valley Bowl brought the two teams together for the first time in 16 years. Rockcastle was building a team that would reach the state finals in ’01 and ’02, but Lincoln held its own in a 24-14 loss that began a 6-5 season.
  • 2001-03: These were dark days for Lincoln, which had a three-year record of 7-23. And the Patriots were clearly outclassed by Rockcastle, which won 51-0, 42-0 and 64-0.
  • 2004: The series survived those blowouts and became competitive once again in the Pats’ first season under Larry French. Lincoln suffered a heartbreaking 18-13 loss when the Rockets scored with no time remaining. It was one of seven losses that fall, but it was also an indication of what was possible in the rejuvenated Lincoln program.
  • 2005: This game was the only aberration of the bunch, because the Pats played poorly in a 31-8 road loss. But they played poorly on other occasions in that season, when they went 5-5 and just missed the playoffs.
  • 2006: It was only fitting that Lincoln got rid of this particular monkey in week three, because the Patriots went on to a 10-2 season that was their best in 12 years.

The Rockcastle team that Lincoln plays tonight in Mount Vernon might not appear to be as strong as those of the past seven years, but the Rockets are still a formidable foe in a tough environment. And even though this game is a little bit later in the year than the other meetings, it should still be a good way to get a reading on where the Patriots might be headed.

* * *

With that comes the weekly picks, where I once again grumble about not being able to figure out Mercer County. I’m back to picking the Titans and backing all but one local team this week. My list includes Lincoln, which I think will gut out a tough road win:

  • Danville over Campbellsville.
  • Frankfort over Garrard County.
  • Lincoln County over Rockcastle County.
  • Casey County over Adair County.
  • Mercer County over Watertown (Tenn.).

Last week: 4-1. For the season: 20-7 (.741).

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Lincoln’s litmus test

If you want to take the temperature of Lincoln County’s football season, you need look no further than the Patriots’ annual game with Rockcastle County.

In the seven years since these neighbors renewed their rivalry, Rockcastle has always provided a stern test, and the result of this game has almost always been a pretty good indicator of how Lincoln’s season turned out. Here’s a breakdown:

  • 2000: The Death Valley Bowl brought the two teams together for the first time in 16 years. Rockcastle was building a team that would reach the state finals in ’01 and ’02, but Lincoln held its own in a 24-14 loss that began a 6-5 season.
  • 2001-03: These were dark days for Lincoln, which had a three-year record of 7-23. And the Patriots were clearly outclassed by Rockcastle, which won 51-0, 42-0 and 64-0.
  • 2004: The series survived those blowouts and became competitive once again in the Pats’ first season under Larry French. Lincoln suffered a heartbreaking 18-13 loss when the Rockets scored with no time remaining. It was one of seven losses that fall, but it was also an indication of what was possible in the rejuvenated Lincoln program.
  • 2005: This game was the only aberration of the bunch, because the Pats played poorly in a 31-8 road loss. But they played poorly on other occasions in that season, when they went 5-5 and just missed the playoffs.
  • 2006: It was only fitting that Lincoln got rid of this particular monkey in week three, because the Patriots went on to a 10-2 season that was their best in 12 years.

The Rockcastle team that Lincoln plays tonight in Mount Vernon might not appear to be as strong as those of the past seven years, but the Rockets are still a formidable foe in a tough environment. And even though this game is a little bit later in the year than the other meetings, it should still be a good way to get a reading on where the Patriots might be headed.

* * *

With that comes the weekly picks, where I once again grumble about not being able to figure out Mercer County. I’m back to picking the Titans and backing all but one local team this week. My list includes Lincoln, which I think will gut out a tough road win:

  • Danville over Campbellsville.
  • Frankfort over Garrard County.
  • Lincoln County over Rockcastle County.
  • Casey County over Adair County.
  • Mercer County over Watertown (Tenn.).

Last week: 4-1. For the season: 20-7 (.741).

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Missing the cut

There are few moments of heartbreak in high school sports that can be as cruel as a regional golf tournament, and Andrew Yeast and the Mercer County boys gave us another illustration of that this week.

Mercer came tantalizingly close to the state tournament berth that it has craved for the last three years, only to see it slip away in a dramatic team playoff in the regional tournament at Dix River. And as if that wasn’t devastating enough, the team playoff loss left Andrew Yeast, the Titans’ top player, to face an individual playoff with two other boys for one spot at state. Three holes later, Yeast lost that playoff on the very same hole where his clutch play a few minutes earlier had put Mercer into the team playoff.

It happens so often in golf: A season’s worth of work goes for naught in one day of missed opportunity. Yes, that happens in other sports, too, but it seems more pronounced in golf, where weeks of steady play and good scores mean nothing if you can’t outplay the competition this one time. And the nature of the game only adds to the drama, as coaches and spectators watch silently and helplessly as players are left alone to think through their performance and deal with the pressure some 70 or 80 times during the day.

Yeast will be fine, of course. He’ll cheer on teammate Ward Dedman, the only Titan who did qualify for state, next week in Bowling Green, and he’ll turn his attention toward college golf, where he should be an asset to some school. Mercer and coach Jay Anderson will be fine, too, with three of its top five players returning and others on the way up to make another run at a regional title.

Yeast isn’t the only deserving player who never got the chance to play in a state tournament, and he isn’t the only area player who just missed a trip to state. Casey County’s Natalie Wesley finished one shot away from the highest qualifying score at the local girls regional, but she went to state last year and will have one more chance next year.

You make your own breaks and mistakes in golf, so each player and team’s result is a product only of what they did or didn’t do. Still, it’s hard not to feel for those who agonize each year around this time over what one more good shot might have meant.

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Fred and the Fort Knox chain gang

Fred Durham knows a thing or two about working on a football chain crew, and it’s a good thing, too.

Durham has been part of the chain crew at Danville’s home football games for years, but he figured to get a break Friday night because the Admirals were on the road at Fort Knox. It didn’t work out that way, however, because four soldiers who were there for basic training also needed some basic training in how to handle the chains.

A group of 200 or so soldiers from the post was brough to Friday’s game for a break in their usual routine and to cheer on the home team, and four of them were drafted, if you will, to man the box and chains on the sidelines. Trouble was, none of them knew what they were doing. These men will surely become good soldiers who will do our country proud in all sorts of ways, but none of their training had prepared them for this.

The side judge nearest the chain crew was beginning to realize he had his hands full when Durham offered to help. Durham and wife Beverly drive the truck and trailer that haul the players’ equipment and their postgame food to out-of-town games, and they’re usually on the sideline at those games. So Durham recognized a problem and stepped in to help, sticking close to the four recruits to tell them where to stand and when to move for the rest of the night.

And like any good soldier would, these men did as they were told and stepped lively when it was time to move. (It was the fastest-moving chain crew I’ve ever tried to stay out of the way of.) We learned over the course of the evening that they were from all points of the compass and had only been at Fort Knox for a short time. We also learned that the football game made for a late night for them and for the rest of their unit in the grandstand; they said they’re usually in bed by 8 p.m. and up at 3:30 a.m., often for a 5-mile run.

It’s thanks to Durham that an otherwise forgettable game ran as smoothly as it did and that these four young men didn’t draw the wrath of a frustrated side judge — which still couldn’t be nearly as bad as what they get every day from their drill sergeants.

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Soldiering on

There was a time not that long ago when Fort Knox could play football with the best of them. Unfortunately for them, that time is long gone.

Fort Knox has fielded some powerful teams in the past, but the one that takes the field tonight at Danville is about as far removed from powerful as you can get. The Eagles have lost 14 straight games, and a win in their final game in 2005 is their only victory in their last 24 games.

In the Durden Ratings published on Wednesday’s in the Advocate, their power rating is 8.3, about 75 points below Danville and better than only nine other teams in the state (but worse than Jackson County and Clinton County, two second-year programs, as well as the likes of Powell County, Owen County and South Floyd).

Those of us with a little history behind us can remember far better teams, such as the ones coached by Joe Jaggers that won Class AA championships in 1983, ’88 and ’90, and the Derek Homer-led team that was the AA runner-up in 1996. Fort Knox teams also laid a couple of losses on Danville in a two-year series in 1985-86, beating the Admirals 12-10 in ’85 and 35-19 in ’86.

Schools located on military posts can have fluid populations, meaning if Dad or Mom gets a transfer order your starting tailback can be gone in a heartbeat. For instance, a 1,600-yard rusher who would have been in Fort Knox the backfield this season moved to Alaska.

For now, the Army’s revolving door seems to be working against Fort Knox, which last made the playoffs in 2002, and more favorably for Fort Campbell, which was 8-3 last year and 11-1 in 2005. The Eagles have a good coach and a proud tradition, but there’s little else going for them right now.

* * *

A few football links:

* * *

Now for the picks, where I took a beating last week because I went for a Boyle County upset and because I still can’t figure when Mercer County is going to win one. I’m going against the Titans, which means they’ll probably win, and I’d love to pick a Jackson County upset but just can’t do it:

  • Lexington Catholic over Boyle County.
  • Danville over Fort Knox.
  • Southwestern over Mercer County.
  • Garrard County over Taylor County.
  • Casey County over Jackson County.

Last week: 4-2. For the season: 16-6.

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She shoots, they score

Congratulations to Courtney Gilliam, who scored the first goal of the season for the Garrard County girls soccer team on Monday in a 5-1 loss to Taylor County, according to The Central Record.

That’s significant because it came in Garrard’s seventh game, following six shutout losses by a combined score of 46-0. The Lady Lions will have a tougher time finding the net in tonight’s game at Danville, but it’s good to see them get off the schneid.

Incidentally, Danville’s girls are ranked 25th and its boys moved up from No. 18 to No. 15 in the latest statewide coaches polls, which followed their losses in last weekend’s All “A” Classic.

* * *

Statewide cross country rankings are also updated regularly, and Danville’s Kaitlin Snapp remains solidly at No. 1 in the Class A girls rankings. Ross Hempel of Danville is ranked 10th among Class A boys, John Anderson of Boyle County is 11th on the Class AA boys list and Jenna Lee of Casey County is 14th among AA girls.

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Tennessee pulls the trigger

Now, a thought about the late, great Kentucky-Tennessee football all-star game, which was supposedly killed off because officials from the two states couldn’t agree on when to play. (Read the story here.)

This game is gone because the Tennessee coaches’ association wanted it gone. Jimmie Reed and the folks at the Kentucky High School Coaches Association were bending over backward to keep the game alive, but only if it could be played in June.

The Tennessee coaches had said for some time they wanted to move the game to December, but they had to know Kentucky officials would never go for that. As Reed pointed out, the problem is that the selected players would have to miss school if they had a week’s worth of practices as all-star teams have in the past.

Tennessee’s desired date of Dec. 15 falls only a week after the Kentucky state finals, one week deeper into the chill of winter and 10 days before Christmas. That would mean an even smaller crowd for a game that usually struggled to draw more than 3,000 to 5,000 fans.

Tennessee has established a successful all-star series with Georgia that hasn’t always been there, and it’s easy to see why folks there would consider that more prestigious than a series with Kentucky. (We’ll be watching to see if that game moves to December.) So they wanted this game to go away, and they made it happen.

That’s a pity, because Reed and his people did good work on this end to run a good game and to get good coaches and players from Kentucky to participate. An East-West series will have to do as a substitute, and I hope it thrives, but it’s possible that more college-bound players will give into their college coaches’ wishes to head off to campus in early June rather than play in an all-star game that might not be quite as attractive.

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Men of two minds

Something that Danville coach Sam Harp said after the Admirals’ win over Boyle County has stuck with me this week, because he talked about how his team succeeded at overcoming a problem almost all high school teams are faced with at some time.

Harp was talking about the mistakes Danville made — and overcame — in that game, and how they won in part because they didn’t allow themselves to slip into a funk after turning the ball over: “Our kids could’ve hung their heads several times out there when we had those turnovers. The same guys who hang their heads have to go right back out there and play defense. Our defense came out there, and the same guys (who made the turnovers) didn’t hang their heads.”

When you’re watching college or pro ball, you hear all the time that the defense has to pick the offense up, or vice versa. But at the high school level, at schools of the size that we watch regularly in this area, the offensive and defensive units are largely made up of the same people. And if those people can pull themselves together after making a mistake — even if it’s their fourth or fifth or sixth mistake of the night — and continue to play hard, then they have an advantage over the ones who can’t.

This isn’t exactly breaking news, and it’s something I knew all along. But hearing Harp’s comments drives the point home and reinforces another reason why high school football is so unique.

* * *

Here are some links relevant to this week’s games:

  • From the Advocate’s sister newspaper, The Winchester Sun, Keith Taylor’s preview on the George Rogers Clark-Danville game.
  • Three local teams — Mercer, Garrard and Lincoln counties — are playing the three Pulaski County teams tonight, but I haven’t found any previews to link to from those games.
  • How bad are things at West Jessamine? First, the Colts (who are in Boyle County’s 4A district) brought an end to Bourbon County’s 34-game losing streak, and they’ve been outscored 145-6 in their three games this season. Then coach Wayne Stevens resigned, although — get this — he’s staying on as an assistant coach. Here are the details from another sister paper, The Jessamine Journal, and Casey Castle.

* * *

And now, the picks. I’m calling my first audible on Boyle County, which I originally pegged for an 0-5 start:

  • Boyle County over Lafayette.
  • George Rogers Clark over Danville.
  • Mercer County over Pulaski County.
  • Somerset over Garrard County.
  • Lincoln County over Southwestern.
  • Taylor County over Casey County.

* * *

The second big boys golf tournament in as many weeks in this area happens Saturday when Boyle County, Danville, Mercer County and others play in the Old Bridge Invitational, which begins at 9 a.m. The regionals are less than two weeks away.

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The big game

I’m bouncing back from a bout with two separate illnesses in the same week, just in time to crank out a few heavily medicated thoughts on the biggest game of the high school football regular season in these parts:

Danville-Boyle County has long since a firm foothold on the list of the state’s best rivalries. Think of the games that make statewide news — not just local news — every year and you think of this one along with games like Covington Catholic-Highlands and Mayfield-Paducah Tilghman. It may never be St. X-Trinity, but nothing else will be, either.

And when it comes to pure city-county rivalries, this game has been by far the biggest in Kentucky since 1994, the first of three straight seasons that the Rebels and Admirals met in the regular season and the playoffs.

Those are the games that really elevated this series to what it is today and vaulted way above other local turf wars such as Hopkinsville-Christian County, Somerset-Pulaski County, Paris-Bourbon County and Bowling Green-Warren Central.

Forty-five games have been played in the series, which Danville leads 31-13-1. Here are some nuggets from within the list of scores:

  • Danville won last year’s meeting 35-33 but hasn’t won two straight games in this series since Boyle snapped a 19-game losing streak with a win in the 1996 Class AA playoffs.
  • Danville’s 19-game winning streak began in 1980 and ended with the 1996 regular-season game. Boyle’s longest winning streak in this series is three games, from 1999-2001 and again from 2003-05.
  • There have been 10 shutouts in the series, counting the 0-0 tie in the first game in 1965 as two. Danville shut out Boyle in 1967, ’68, ’83, ’85, ’90 and ’94, and Boyle shut out Danville in 1996 and 2000.
  • Danville has outscored Boyle 1,223-592 over the life of the series. The Admirals’ 31 wins have been by an average score of 34.4-8.6, while the Rebels’ 13 wins have been by an average score of 25.1-12.0.
  • The winning team has averaged 36 points in the last nine games, while the losing team has averaged 25.5 over the last four years.

* * *

The newest rivalry between two local teams also plays out tonight when Lincoln County visits Mercer County. It’s hard to believe these schools that are so close to each other have only played six times, and tonight’s game is the first since 1999.

This game is compelling because it matches two coaches, Lincoln’s Larry French and Mercer’s Marty Jaggers, who each previously worked at the other school. But enough water has gone under the bridge to keep this from being any kind of grudge match.

And this rivalry might not have much time to grow. They’re in the same Class 5A district for now, but Mercer is a smallish 5A team, and Jaggers believes the Titans could drop to 4A in 2009.

* * *

The other game the Advocate staff is covering tonight matches Jackson County and Garrard County. Part of me has to pull for Jackson since it’s my alma mater, and I always felt like I might have made a decent defensive player on defense had the school had football when I was there. After all, I wasn’t half bad in the flag football games we had in PE class.

The Generals just started playing varsity football last year and have four wins in their first 12 games, including two this season, which is more than I could have hoped for. They’ve played every game so far on the road because they haven’t built a home field yet.

But this is a tall order. It’s Jackson’s first game in its Class 3A district, and Garrard is by far the best team the Generals have played to date. They’re in over their heads here, at least for now.

Now for the rest of the weekly picks. Garrard and Lincoln fooled me last week, but it was good to see both teams get those wins. If I miss any this week, I’ll just blame the medication:

  • Danville over Boyle County.
  • Mercer County over Lincoln County.
  • Wayne County over Casey County.
  • Garrard County over Jackson County.

Last week: 4-2. For the season: 9-3.

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