Archive for November, 2007

Playing the favorite

When Larry French says this is the best team Lincoln County has faced this season, you’d better believe it. Forget anything you saw from regular-season opponents Bell County and Scott County, and certainly any of the three schools the Patriots have faced in the postseason.

Highlands has been the most dominant team in Class 5A from start to finish this season, while Lincoln is by far the biggest surprise among the four semifinalists in the class.

Not that the Patriots don’t deserve to be there. They’ve earned their place on the right side of the bracket with a season almost no one thought they were capable of.

But they have their hands full tonight in Fort Thomas. And it’s not just about Highlands’ tradition, though that’s impressive enough. This is by all accounts a solid football team in every area, which makes Lincoln a solid underdog.

The Bluebirds have been the most dominant team in Class 5A from start to finish this season, and with good reason. A horse racing form would tell you Lincoln is making a big move up in class in tonight’s final prep race before the state finals, so the smart money goes with the favorite:

  • Highlands over Lincoln County.

Last week: 1-0. For the season: 47-17 (.734).

* * *

Before I hit the road, here’s a link to the game preview from The Kentucky Enquirer. (In the spirit of equal time and a fondness for afternoon newspapers, I couldn’t find one from The Kentucky Post.)

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Get there early, enjoy the show

Highlands’ football stadium may not be the most comfortable place to watch a game, but few places can match David Cecil Memorial Stadium (pictured here) for atmosphere. Maybe it’s the tradition, with 16 state championships and 82 winning seasons in 93 years of football. Highlands is (or should be) one of the first five schools named on any list of the state’s very best football programs.

And if you want to be part of that atmosphere Friday when Lincoln County plays there in a Class 5A semifinal — and if you want a good seat — you’d better get there early. According to Highlands’ Web site, the stadium gates open at 6 p.m. and admission is $6. Here are directions to the school:

U.S. 27 north to Lexington, right on Man O’War Boulevard, right on Interstate 75 north to Erlanger, exit at Interstate 275 east (exit 185) to Highland Heights, exit left at Interstate 471 north (exit 74) to Newport, exit at Ky. 1120 (exit 4), right off ramp on Ky. 1120 east (Memorial Parkway) to Fort Thomas, school is 2 1/2 miles ahead on left.

If you use Mapquest or Google maps or some other online map site to find your bearings, the school’s address is 2400 Memorial Parkway, Fort Thomas, 41075. Parking is usually at a premium, and many fans park nearby on side streets, in church parking lots and the like. And it’s normal to see fans who live within half a mile or a mile walking from their homes to game.

All of the seating is on the stadium’s east side, behind the visitors’ bench. The listed seating capacity is 4,700, which seems a bit optimistic, and there is standing room in the corners and end zones. The school building is behind the home bench, and teams come charging out of doors and right onto the field.

Then there’s the cannon, which doesn’t seem to fit because the team isn’t called the Patriots or the Rebels or anything that might actually use a cannon. But it’s one of the best-known cannons out there (maybe because they get to fire it so often), and one of the loudest because the report echoes off the walls of the buildings surrounding the field.

Finally, you might hear some references to Fort Thomas as “Cake Town” and its football fans as “Cake Eaters” that seem hard to explain. The terms originated because of the custom of preparing a large cake after the football team’s state finals victories. The team’s fans and cheerleaders use them as a positive (see the second photo on this page), but they’re often used in a derogatory fashion by local rivals of the school in one of northern Kentucky’s more affluent suburbs. (Think Marie Antoinette.)

If you want to read more on Highlands, here’s a good Web site focusing on the Bluebirds’ history and records.

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Basketball correction

A correction to an item in the previous post about the start of the high school hoops season: Todd Carman made his debut with the Casey County boys on Monday, when the Rebels lost 70-52 to Anderson County. The game wasn’t on the schedule we had.

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It's roundball time

In the midst of football euphoria in Lincoln County, where the Pigskin Patriots have reached the state semifinals for only the fourth time, the high school basketball season begins there tonight as well. The Lincoln County girls host Pulaski County tonight in the only opening night game involving any of the eight area schools.

It’s a light week in general, as the first week of the season usually is. Here are some week one highlights:

  • Tuesday: It’s the first debut game for any of the area’s new coaches as Lee DeForest’s Garrard County boys host Monticello. And the Casey County girls play at Southwestern, last year’s 12th Region runner-up.
  • Thursday: Judie Mason’s Danville girls play their first game, hosting Burgin.
  • Friday: Boyle County’s boys host East Jessamine, while Roger Newton leads the Boyle girls for the first time at Washington County. Also, the Casey County boys play their first game under Todd Carman at home against rival Russell County, and the Kentucky School for the Deaf boys play their first game under Mike Yance in Knoxville, Tenn., at Tennessee School for the Deaf’s Viking Classic.

As for the Lincoln boys, some of whom will be playing football for one or two more weeks, they’ll play their season opener Tuesday against Russell County as scheduled. There’s a pretty good chance, however, that Lincoln’s girls-boys doubleheader Friday at Wayne County will be postponed.

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It’s roundball time

In the midst of football euphoria in Lincoln County, where the Pigskin Patriots have reached the state semifinals for only the fourth time, the high school basketball season begins there tonight as well. The Lincoln County girls host Pulaski County tonight in the only opening night game involving any of the eight area schools.

It’s a light week in general, as the first week of the season usually is. Here are some week one highlights:

  • Tuesday: It’s the first debut game for any of the area’s new coaches as Lee DeForest’s Garrard County boys host Monticello. And the Casey County girls play at Southwestern, last year’s 12th Region runner-up.
  • Thursday: Judie Mason’s Danville girls play their first game, hosting Burgin.
  • Friday: Boyle County’s boys host East Jessamine, while Roger Newton leads the Boyle girls for the first time at Washington County. Also, the Casey County boys play their first game under Todd Carman at home against rival Russell County, and the Kentucky School for the Deaf boys play their first game under Mike Yance in Knoxville, Tenn., at Tennessee School for the Deaf’s Viking Classic.

As for the Lincoln boys, some of whom will be playing football for one or two more weeks, they’ll play their season opener Tuesday against Russell County as scheduled. There’s a pretty good chance, however, that Lincoln’s girls-boys doubleheader Friday at Wayne County will be postponed.

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Last stand in the Valley

It was 13 Fridays ago that the Lincoln County Patriots charged onto their Death Valley field for the first time. And there was no reason to believe on that August night that the Patriots would be back there tonight, racing past cheerleaders and other fans on their way to one more game on their home turf.

Lincoln’s 31-7 loss to Bell County in its season opener Aug. 24 was the only false echo in a surprisingly brilliant season in the Valley, one that no one could have seen coming even before the Patriots took a beating from Bell.

Now comes one last home game and the chance for Lincoln to move into the final four in the Class 5A playoffs with a win in tonight’s quarterfinal game against Johnson Central. This game will look nothing like Lincoln’s season opener, with the temperature some 60 degrees lower and the Patriots heating up seemingly week after week.

Things get tough when you get this deep into the playoffs. Every opponent is good, and every game could be the one that ends it all. Johnson Central is one of the best teams Lincoln has seen, but several weeks ago I became a believer in the Patriots and their ability to do things we didn’t think they would be capable of this season.

So I’m betting Lincoln’s last home game will be much more successful than the first, and that the Patriots will make it to the semifinals of their class for the fourth time in school history.

It’s the only game to pick this week, so it’s all or nothing. And it’s no gimme, either, but I’ll take:

  • Lincoln County over Johnson Central.

Last week: 3-1. For the season: 46-17 (.730).

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How long?

With only two rounds of the football playoffs in the books, we’re down to one team remaining in the Advocate’s coverage area. And that’s an awfully rare thing for a section of the state that has sent more than its share of teams deep into the playoffs over the last 25 years.

To be exact, the last time it happened was in 1998. Danville made it all the way to the Class 2A finals that season, but Boyle County and Harrodsburg were eliminated in the second round, Lincoln County exited in the first round and none of the other area teams qualified.

The story was basically the same the year before, except it was Harrodsburg in the state finals (in Class A) and Danville bowing out in the second round.

Since 1991, when the playoffs were expanded to 32 teams and five rounds in each class, at least two local teams have reached the third round (quarterfinals) in every year except those two.

This is also the first time since 1997 that both Boyle and Danville have been bounced after two rounds. In that season, Boyle lost to Bourbon County and Danville lost to Lexington Catholic.

And this is the first time that Lincoln has reached the quarters since 1999, when the Patriots defeated Breckinridge County and Central in the first two rounds before losing to Bullitt East.

This season marks the seventh time Lincoln has won at least two playoff games. The Pats reached the Class 3A semifinals with two wins in 1988 and also had two wins in the larger format in 1992, ’94, ’95 and ’99. And of course, they won four games in both 1990 and 1993 to reach the state finals.

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A busy week in the sports pages

Several of our special high school sports projects will fill the pages of The Advocate-Messenger this week as we reach the crossroads of football and basketball seasons. Here’s the schedule:

  • Tuesday: The Advocate’s Area Lineman of the Year will be announced.
  • Wednesday: This is one of our weekly football preview days, and this is the day we’ll preview the Class 5A quarterfinal between Lincoln County and Johnson Central.
  • Thursday: Our own Thanksgiving tradition, the Advocate All-Area team, has a prominent place in the holiday edition. The Area Coach of the Year will also be announced. And each paper comes with a free slice of pumpkin pie. (Kidding about the pie. The pie’s all mine.)
  • Friday: Our high school basketball preview has a different look this season, and this is when you can find it. Previews and schedules for each area boys and girls team are all in one neat package, unlike the gifts you’re buying that day.
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Questions, questions, questions

This is where you start asking yourself questions.

The second round of the football playoffs is like the first in one respect, because all 48 games tonight are rematches of regular-season games. But there’s also a critical difference, because most of tonight’s games are much more in doubt than most of last week’s games.

Things were more certain in the first round. Sure, there were a few surprises around the state, including one mild surprise in our area as Garrard County toppled Wayne County. But for the most part, things went pretty much according to Hoyle.

But now you begin to wonder. Sure, Team A defeated Team B a few weeks ago, but Team B had a pretty good season and won a playoff game, so there must be something there, right? History tells you it will happen again the way it happened before, but experience tells you it might not.

Here are the questions surrounding tonight’s local games:

1. Which half of the first Danville-Bardstown game was the truth?

Danville dominated the first half and Bardstown dominated the second when the two teams played Oct. 5. It’s a simple statement, but the team that comes closest to putting both halves together will advance.

2. Has Boyle County done enough to catch up with Lexington Catholic?

Boyle looks like a different team than in its loss to Catholic on Sept. 21. Yes, part of that has to do with the second-half schedule, but there’s little doubt that the Rebels are much better now than then.

3. Can Pulaski County fare any better against Lincoln County’s defense?

Pulaski has put up big numbers in almost every game this season, but the zero it put up Oct. 19 at Lincoln stands out. Lincoln’s defense did things to the Maroons that other opponents had not, and it will be interesting to see how well Pulaski is able to adjust.

4. Does Garrard County have a chance at another upset?

The Golden Lions were feeling fine after their win at Wayne County last week, but beating Somerset tonight will be a much taller order. The Briar Jumpers dropped 65 points on Garrard on Sept. 14, but the Lions insist that high score was a result of mistakes made in the first 10 minutes.

The playoffs take on a different look next week when teams face opponents they haven’t seen this season. The biggest question, of course, is how many of the four local teams playing tonight will still be around?

That leads right into to this week’s picks, made with history in mind:

  • Danville over Bardstown.
  • Somerset over Garrard County.
  • Lexington Catholic over Boyle County.
  • Lincoln County over Pulaski County.

Last week: 3-1. For the season: 43-16 (.729).

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Playoffs by the numbers

A new era of almost-all-inclusive football playoffs begins in earnest tonight, so it’s time to get used to some changes, including intradistrict first- and second-round games (which were introduced to poor reviews last year), semi-random district-vs.-district matchups and all the confusion you can handle.

To add to that confusion, here are a few numbers of note relating to this postseason:

  • 288 — Minutes of football that will be played in the six championship games Dec. 7-8. (If there’s no overtime and no mercy-rule games.) And in between some of those minutes will be a record 18 appearances by Nat Guard.
  • 186 — The total number of playoff games, 31 in each class. There were 124 games played last year under the four-class system, and only 60 before the last major playoff overhaul in 1991.
  • 96 — The number of first-round games, up 50 percent from last year. Two of those games were played Thursday night, leaving a mere 94 for tonight.
  • 86 — Percentage of teams qualifying for the playoffs, up from roughly 60 percent last year.
  • 66 — Teams with losing records in the playoffs, accounting for 34 percent of the field.
  • 23 — Districts (out of 48) with four teams, meaning 92 of the 192 playoff teams qualified simply by showing up every week.
  • 5 — Winless teams still playing (Butler, Clinton County, Iroquois, Fort Knox, West Jessamine). Butler and Iroquois must play 10-0 teams, St. Xavier and John Hardin. Three other 0-10 teams (Adair County, Bishop Brossart, East Ridge) were left out.
  • 3 — Teams that finished at .500 or better that failed to qualify (6-4 Grant County, 5-5 Central Hardin, 5-5 Madisonville-North Hopkins).

* * *

There are a few good matchups buried among a massive amount of bad games tonight, and you could make a strong argument that the state’s best first-round matchup might be right here in our area.

The Mercer County-Lincoln County game, a rematch of a 12-7 Lincoln victory on Sept. 7, is about as intriguing as they come. Other gems amid the rocks include Hopkinsville-Christian County and Dixie Heights-Covington Catholic.

* * *

The Central Record of Lancaster reports this week that three Garrard County starters will be suspended for the Golden Lions’ game tonight at Wayne County due to “off-the-field incidents.” The players were not named, and the report said a fourth player will make the trip but may not play.

* * *

Now for the first-round of playoff picks (and remember, the first round is never the time to go out on a long limb):

  • Danville over Fort Knox.
  • Wayne County over Garrard County.
  • Boyle County over East Jessamine.
  • Lincoln County over Mercer County.

Last week: 2-1. For the regular season: 40-15 (.727).

And while I know I should bury the past — especially when it comes to my predictions — I just had to take a look back at my preseason picks, which appeared along with those of the entire Advocate sports staff in an Aug. 22 Vaught’s Views column, to see how they held up:

  • Boyle County: Picked 4-6, finished 4-6. Got all 10 games right, so it’s all downhill from here.
  • Casey County: Picked 3-7, finished 3-7. A win over Adair County made this possible after the Evangel Christian game was dropped and Trimble County was added.
  • Danville: Picked 8-2, finished 8-2. Thought the Ads would lose to George Rogers Clark and Bardstown, not Madison Central and Frankfort.
  • Garrard County: Picked 4-6, finished 4-6. Missed a win over Bethlehem and a loss to Pendleton County.
  • Lincoln County: Picked 5-5, finished 8-2. The accuracy rate takes a big hit here. I thought the Pats would lose games they won over Bardstown, Mercer County and Hopkinsville, but this is a team that’s fooled a lot of us this season.
  • Mercer County: Picked 9-1, finished 5-5. And this would be the biggest miss of the bunch. I forecast a loss to Hopkinsville, but not the losses to Lincoln, Pulaski County, Watertown (Tenn.) and South Laurel.

How did you do? What were the surprises of this season that you didn’t see coming? Feel free to tell us about them in a comment.

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