As fate would have it, Class 5A’s No. 2 Frederick Douglass and No. 5 Southwestern will face each other for a regional championship for the third year in a row.
And by “fate,” we mean the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s automatic RPI seeding system, which can’t seem to get enough of this Broncos-Warriors tilt.
“We know it’s a big challenge,” said Southwestern Coach Jason Foley, who lost 44-8 to Douglass in his first season leading the Warriors in 2019. “They’ve got a lot of great athletes … a lot of speed. We know we’ve got to try to limit the big plays. That’s what they make their living on. Hopefully, we’ll be able to move the football, get some ball control and make it a game.”
Southwestern got to host this matchup as the higher seed last year and more than made that one a game on a cold, rainy November night in Somerset that turned the Warriors’ natural grass field into a sloppy track.
Foley’s team scored two fourth quarter touchdowns and cut their deficit to 21-20 in the game’s final moments. Douglass mounted a fierce goal-line defense of Southwestern’s two-point conversion attempt and held on for the victory.
Douglass Coach Nate McPeek has grown to know the Warriors well and he’s glad to have the game at home this Friday on the Broncos’ artificial turf. Could he learn anything more from last year’s mud bowl?
“A little bit, but the field conditions were so bad, that was one of the worst playing conditions I’ve coached in in my career and this is my 18th year,” McPeek said. “They’re a very physical ball club. They want to control the football, and take shots when they can. Obviously, they’ve got a lot of guys back and I told our guys yesterday in our practice and our film session that they’ve got a lot of seniors on their team that don’t want to go home, either.”
Southwestern brings back its entire offensive line from that mud bowl and its two primary rushers Tanner Wright and Giddeon Brainard. Wright has 968 yards and 10 TDs rushing. Brainard has 897 yards and 11 TDs.
“We’ve actually got four or five really good backs, but those two lead the way,” Foley said. “We spread the wealth out. We’ve got some playmakers. Mason Hibbard’s really come on playing out wide for us. But it all starts with our bread and butter — that run game.”
The Warriors’ most impressive win this season came Oct. 29 with a 26-0 shutout of a very good Madison Central team, the same squad that knocked Class 6A No. 3 Bryan Station out of the playoffs last week.
“I think our defense is definitely playing its best football right now,” Foley said. “When it gets down to the nitty gritty, I think that’s what we may be hanging our hat on — that strong defensive play and giving our offense good field position.”
Douglass features Kentucky commit Dane Key, a 6-foot-2 wideout who has displayed spectacular playmaking ability, including an 80-yard kickoff return touchdown last week against Scott County. Samuel Cornett, a 6-6 quarterback who recently accepted a preferred walk-on spot at Louisville, has thrown a total of 22 TDs to six different receivers and has a committee of running backs led by Davaun Hart’s 409 yards and eight scores.
Douglass cruised through its regular-season schedule until the final week when it faced defending Class 4A champion Boyle County. The visiting Rebels humbled Douglass, handing the Broncos a 34-7 loss on The Farm. McPeek knew he wanted a tough opponent ahead of the playoffs. He got it.
“I didn’t want it to go that poorly, obviously. I wanted to win the game,” McPeek said. “To be honest with you, anything bad that could have happened to us happened in that game. It was very similar to our first quarter at Owensboro last year. Give them credit. They have a great program and they’re state champions for a reason.”
McPeek has been pleased with how his team has responded in the weeks since.
“I think it was good for us. We’re playing with more energy, right now. We have a much better tempo than we had in that game,” McPeek said. “I think our kids have handled that adversity moment really well leading up to this region championship game.”
Region finals predictions
This week’s regional finals and @HLpreps’ picks.
Best game: No. 5 Bishop Brossart (12-0) at No. 3 Raceland (11-1), 7:30 p.m.:
This is the fifth playoff meeting between these two teams since 2015, but the first since a 53-13 Rams blowout in 2018. The Rams have faced a far tougher schedule, according to the KHSAA’s RPI breakdown and throw it a little better than the Mustangs. Dual-threat Rams QB Logan Lundy has 1,724 yards and 21 TDs passing to go with 403 yards and nine TDs rushing. Brossart has a pair of 1,000-yard running backs in Jed Martin and Jacob Leicth.
▪ No. 7 Bethlehem (10-2) at No. 4 Kentucky Country Day (10-2), 7 p.m. Pick: KCD.
▪ No. 13 Williamsburg (8-3) at No. 2 Pikeville (11-2), 7:30 p.m. Pick: Pikeville.
▪ No. 11 Newport Central Catholic (9-3) at No. 1 Russellville (10-1), 6:30 p.m. Pick: Russellville.
Best game: No. 7 West Carter (9-3) at No. 5 Middlesboro (12-0), 7 p.m.
Somehow these two teams have not met in at least the last 23 years, according to KHSAA records. This is Middlesboro’s deepest playoff run since 2006 and comes after having to bow out of last year’s playoffs due to COVID-19. The Yellow Jackets have a balanced attack led by QB Cayden Grigsby (1,545 yards, 19 TDs passing, 767 yards, 10 TDs rushing) and RB Caleb Bogonko (1,263 yards, 21 TDs).
West Carter reached the state semifinals last year and has rekindled some of that magic with a new set of playmakers. Quarterback Eli Estepp has thrown for 1,741 yards and 23 touchdowns while running back Cole Crampton has racked up 1,837 yards and 23 TDs rushing, making him one of the most prolific rushers in this year’s playoffs.
Pick: West Carter.
▪ No. 15 Walton-Verona (9-3) at No. 2 Beechwood (12-0), 7:30 p.m. Pick: Beechwood.
▪ No. 12 Owensboro Catholic (7-5) at No. 1 Lexington Christian (12-0), 7 p.m. Pick: LCA.
▪ No. 6 Green County (11-1) at No. 3 Mayfield (11-1), 6:30 p.m. Pick: Mayfield.
Best game: No. 3 Bardstown (12-0) at No. 2 Glasgow (11-1), 7 p.m.
Undefeated Bardstown has an impressive win over Class 4A No. 8 Spencer County, but on the whole has faced a less difficult schedule than the Scotties because its district foes have been weaker this year. Still, Tigers senior quarterback Brady Clark has had a breakout season with 2,544 yards and 36 TDs passing to go with 427 yards and six TDs rushing. TJ Greenwell has been a threat in the run and pass games with more than 1,600 total yards and 23 TDs.
Glasgow has won 11 straight since being the first to find out Class 5A No. 1 Woodford County is the real deal in a 56-0 season-opening beatdown. The Scotties run it a lot, led by Keiran Stockton’s 1,001 yards and 21 TDs rushing.
▪ No. 14 Belfry (6-6) at No. 8 Bell County (10-2), 7:30 p.m. Pick: Belfry.
▪ No. 15 Paducah Tilghman (6-6) at No. 1 Christian Academy-Louisville (11-1), 7:30 p.m. Pick: CAL.
▪ No. 22 Mason County (9-3) at No. 5 East Carter (10-3), 7:30 p.m. Pick: East Carter.
Best game: No. 4 Johnson Central (10-2) at No. 2 Corbin (12-0), 7:30 p.m.
The Golden Eagles have won seven straight since mourning the loss of head Coach Jim Matney to COVID-19 complications. The streak has been built on Johnson Central’s trademark run game with Zack Coart’s 880 yards and 13 TDs rushing leading the way. But he’s far from the only focus with four other rushers tallying more than 400 yards. QB Grant Rice had 120 yards and three TDs last week.
Corbin lost to Johnson Central 28-14 at this same stage last season. The Redhounds feature two 1,000-yard rushers in Seth Huff and Seth Mills to go along with a passing game led by Cameron Combs (1,338 yards, 13 TDs passing) and receiving targets Treyveon Longmire (469 yards, seven TDs receiving) and Dakota Patterson (432 yards, three TDs). Longmire is a Kentucky commit.
▪ No. 16 Scott (8-4) at 1 Boyle County (11-1), 7:30 p.m. Pick: Boyle County.
▪ No. 15 Allen County-Scottsville (8-4) at No. 5 Franklin County (9-3), 7:30 p.m. Pick: Franklin County.
▪ No. 8 Spencer County (9-3) at No. 7 Logan County (9-4), 7 p.m. Pick: Spencer County.
Best game: No. 5. Southwestern (11-1) at No. 2. Frederick Douglass (11-1), 7:30 p.m.
These two have only ever met with a region trophy on the line (2019, 2020) with Douglass winning both. Douglass advanced to the state finals in 2019. They were turned back in the semifinals by Owensboro last season. This is Southwestern’s fifth straight region finals. The previous four were all losses.
▪ No. 18 Bullitt Central (9-3) at No. 3 Owensboro (11-1), 7 p.m. Pick: Owensboro.
▪ No. 12 South Oldham (9-3) at No. 4 South Warren (11-1), 7 p.m. Pick: South Warren.
▪ No. 6 Covington Catholic (9-3) at No. 1 Woodford County (12-0), 7:30 p.m. Pick: Woodford County.
Best game: No. 4 Daviess County (11-1) at No. 2 St. Xavier (11-1), 7:30 p.m.
The Panthers have been making a case on social media that their dual-threat quarterback, Joe Humphreys, is the top candidate for Mr. Football this season. His 3,789 yards and 47 TDs passing and 555 yards and 17 TDs rushing make a pretty good argument, as well. If he can produce against one of Louisville’s big boys, St. Xavier, this week, you’ll be hearing a lot more about him.
St. X has only lost to No. 1 Male this year — and it was close (28-21 on Sept. 3). The Tigers have their own dual-threat QB, Jack Sivori (1,674 yards, 20 TDs passing, 937 yards, 18 TDs rushing).
Pick: St. Xavier.
▪ No. 15 Paul Laurence Dunbar (7-5) at No. 7 Madison Central (9-3), 7:30 p.m. Pick: Madison Central.
▪ No. 21 North Hardin (5-7) at No. 1 Male (11-0), 7:15 p.m. Pick: Male.
▪ No. 19 Trinity (5-7) at No. 6 Ryle (9-3), 7:30 p.m. Pick: Trinity.
Last week’s @HLpreps’ district picks record: 39-9.
Last year’s @HLpreps regional picks record: 18-3. (three games canceled by COVID-19).