A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Are you a sports numbers nut/aficionado? Here are some numbers from first half of prep football season

By Don Owen
Special to the NKyTribune

The first half of the Kentucky high school football season is now complete, but nothing has been decided in terms of the upcoming state playoffs. Nothing, that is, unless you are a numbers aficionado.

The numbers aficionados? We all know them. They are analytical experts. They are self-proclaimed stat freaks. They’ve already calculated which teams will win the state championship in all six classifications in Kentucky. It’s all in the statistics, the numbers aficionados tell us. Easy as predicting a presidential election or the stock market, they say. Crunch the numbers, compare the scores, calculate the strength of schedule, and there are your winners.

But those same numbers aficionados conveniently forget about variables such as coaching adjustments to offensive/defensive schemes, injuries to key players, and the ongoing maturation of youthful squads. Teams have been known to jell on the gridiron at just the right time — during the playoffs. Numbers reveal possibilities in football, not absolutes. Intangibles are impossible to compute.

So as a tribute to those people obsessed with data and how they relate to prep football, let’s break down some random numbers of the off-the-wall variety and see what we come up with as we fast-forward to the second half of the season. We’ll even make a few predictions of our own, but solely based on gut feeling, not numbers.

30 — That’s how many years have passed since Covington Catholic won its first state championship on the football field. The 1987 CovCath team, under the direction of head coach Lynn Ray, posted a 16-6 victory against Paducah Tilghman in the championship game to capture its first-ever state title.

Now, 30 years later, the unbeaten Colonels (6-0) appear primed to add another state crown to the six championships (1987, ’88, ’93, ’94, ’97, 2006) they already own. CovCath senior quarterback A.J. Mayer has thrown for 1,171 yards and 15 touchdowns. Mayer, a candidate for Kentucky’s Mr. Football honor, has an outstanding arm and will play his collegiate football at Miami (Ohio). Junior running back Casey McGinness, who rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns during CovCath’s 35-7 win over Ohio powerhouse Columbus St. Francis DeSales on Friday night, leads the Colonels with 733 yards on the ground.

CovCath senior A.J. Mayer (No. 7) season-opening home game against Ryle (Photo by Steve Dyer).

And don’t forget the CovCath defense, which has allowed just 49 points the entire season — an average of 8.1 points allowed per game. That kind of defense will produce a lot of wins. Combine it with CovCath’s explosive offense, and you have a potential state champion in 5A.

23 — The number of football state championships won by the Highlands Bluebirds. Those 23 state titles are second only to Louisville Trinity’s 24 championships in Kentucky. Highlands is currently 2-4 after suffering a heartbreaking 35-30 loss at Simon Kenton on Friday night. Senior running back Larry Wilson gained 171 yards on the ground in that game, while senior quarterback Carl Schoellman threw for a pair of touchdowns. If junior running back Cooper Schwalbach (a team-leading 308 rushing yards, eight touchdowns) returns from an injury, an already-potent Highlands offensive attack becomes even more difficult to defend.

The Bluebirds have played a rough schedule, which should have them prepared once the 5A playoffs begin. But Highlands will likely have to wait at least another year before having a realistic chance at adding to its 23 state championships. CovCath is clearly the elite team in 5A this season, and Highlands doesn’t appear capable of stopping the high-powered offense of the Colonels. Don’t be surprised, though, if Highlands and CovCath square off for the regional championship in November. Highlands’ near-miss against unbeaten Simon Kenton indicates the Bluebirds could be a major factor come playoff time.

6 — Unfortunately, this is how many state champions are crowned in the watered-down Kentucky playoff system. See below for clarification.

53-12 — The average score in the first round of last year’s 1A playoffs. Yes, like 41 points as the average margins of victory in 14 first-round games. Want examples? How about Williamsburg 69, South Floyd 6? Or check out Russellville 62, Caverna 6? Take a look at Pineville 69, Jenkins 14. And don’t forget Beechwood 56, Eminence 6, or Paintsville 59, Paris 7. During the 1A first round in 2016, the winning teams outscored the opposition by a whopping 737-175 margin.

45-10 — Just to prove we’re not just picking on the 1A playoffs, this was the average score in the first round of last year’s 6A playoffs. Yes, 45-10, in the state’s largest classification. And that’s despite two games that were actually decided by a touchdown or less. In 16 first-round games, the winning teams outscored the losing squads 719-157. We actually rounded out the final average for the defeated teams (9.81) to 10 just to be kind, but who’s counting?

Anyone attend the Louisville Trinity 69, Ohio County 0 first-round game last November? How about Simon Kenton 56, George Rogers Clark 6? What about Central Hardin 50, Louisville Seneca 0? Or did you sit through Louisville St. Xavier 63, Muhlenberg County 14?

Honest question: Does anyone, including the players and coaches, really enjoy these kinds of results? And during the playoffs, no less? No wonder the first round of the playoffs in Kentucky is jokingly called “Running Clock Friday.”

3 — The ideal number of classes in Kentucky, which is 26th nationally in population yet determined to field six classifications in football. Why do three classes in football work better than six, you ask?

At the moment, 217 schools field football teams in Kentucky. Place the largest 72 schools by enrollment in 3A, the next 72 in 2A, and the remaining 73 in 1A. In that format, Kentucky could have witnessed a Bowling Green/Trinity state final last season in the large-school classification. Does a Beechwood vs. Christian Academy of Louisville state finale sound intriguing? It would have happened last season in a three-class setup. How about Belfry taking on Johnson Central? Those two schools won their respective championship games last season by a combined 100-31 score (Johnson Central 48, Franklin-Simpson 0 in 4A, and Belfry 52, Louisville Central 31 in 3A). Would it not have made more sense for them to play each other in a championship game?

2 — In a revamped playoff system with three classes, only the top two teams in each district will qualify for the playoffs. That makes 32 teams from each class qualifying for the playoffs. It’s a total of 96 teams from all three classes, which is more than enough. Sorry, no more 1-9 or 0-10 teams will qualify for the playoffs. As a matter of fact, the three-class system would likely eliminate teams with 2-8 or 3-7 records from sneaking into the playoffs.

25 — The number of state championship trophies Louisville Trinity is hoping to own after this season. The Shamrocks’ trophy case currently displays 24 state football crowns, which is the most in Kentucky. Unless something very unusual occurs, look for Trinity to be hoisting state championship trophy No. 25 in early December.

42 — Hard to believe, but it’s been 42 years since Ludlow won its only state championship in football. Those Panthers captured the 1975 Class A title with a 7-6 win over Heath behind the rushing exploits of star running back Jim Lokesak.

This season’s Panthers — ranked No. 6 in last week’s Associated Press Class A state poll — are 5-0 after knocking off powerhouse Williamsburg, 39-28, on Friday night. Ludlow’s unbeaten start has been ignited by the play of versatile quarterback Justin Blackburn, a dual threat as a passer and runner who is aiming to duplicate Lokesak’s mighty feat of 42 years ago and help the Panthers challenge for the state title. Blocking their path in 1A, though, is another type of cat — the Tigers of Beechwood.

12 — Beechwood’s number of state championships, including last season’s 1A title. And there is no reason to believe any opponent will prevent the Tigers from repeating. Toss out the lopsided 45-9 loss against rival CovCath two weeks ago. It meant nothing as far as the upcoming playoffs.

Don picks Beechwood as his 1A champion

Beechwood features quarterback Brayden Burch, who threw four touchdown passes during a 62-0 victory against Holy Cross on Friday night. Running back James Davis led the Beechwood ground attack with 102 rushing yards and four touchdowns in that win.

76 — Simon Kenton’s nightmarish margin of defeat during a 76-0 shellacking at the hands of Highlands in 1997. The Pioneers, though, have somewhat avenged that lopsided loss of 20 years ago during the past three seasons. Simon Kenton posted a 42-3 win over Highlands in 2015, followed that up with a 77-53 victory in 2016, and the Pioneers made it three straight over the Bluebirds this past Friday night with a closer-than-expected 35-30 triumph in Independence.

Quarterback Matt Shearer has passed for 1,217 yards and 20 touchdowns for the unbeaten Pioneers (6-0), while running back Austin Hammack leads the rushing attack with 510 yards. Shearer, also an outstanding runner, has added 347 yards on the ground with seven touchdowns. How far could Simon Kenton to go in the playoffs, you ask? Good question. The Pioneers would likely have to get past Louisville Trinity to even reach the 6A state semifinals, much less the championship game. That’s probably asking a bit too much.

18 — That was the winning streak for Christian Academy of Louisville when the defending 2A state champion Centurions visited Newport Central Catholic two weeks ago. Christian Academy departed Newport Stadium with a 20-15 loss to NewCath, which halted the Centurions’ 18-game winning streak that dated back to last season. The Thoroughbreds also served notice they will once again be a team to watch once the 2A playoffs begin in November. Junior running back Kyle Kelly has rushed for 548 yards and is NewCath’s go-to offensive player. Kelly is also an effective receiver, having caught 12 passes for a team-leading 181 yards.

37 — The number of years that have passed since Newport posted an unbeaten regular-season record (11-0) only to be upset by Conner in the opening round of the 3A playoffs. That 1980 Newport team, led by running backs David Simpson and William Slaughter, posted wins against CovCath, Highlands, NewCath, Lloyd and Conner during the regular season and appeared destined to win the state 3A title.

But in the first round of the playoffs, Conner — which had dropped a 27-0 decision to Newport in the season opener 12 weeks earlier — pulled off the stunning road upset, 21-16, to eliminate the Wildcats and end their dream of a state title.

Some 37 years later, Newport is off to a 1-4 start after suffering a 45-15 loss to Frankfort on Friday night. Sophomore quarterback Giaunte Jackson (362 rushing yards, 332 passing yards) and junior running back Tyler Porter (277 rushing yards, 140 receiving yards) are two reasons for optimism at Newport. Porter is an elusive runner and has already scored eight touchdowns (five rushing, two receiving, one kickoff return) this season.

1 — Only one team from each classification will leave Lexington with a championship trophy in December. Below are my picks. I didn’t need to use any number-crunching methods, either. A little old-fashioned instinct and lots of research provided the rationale for my predictions. Check back in the first week of December to see if my picks were on target.

6A: Louisville Trinity
5A: Covington Catholic
4A: Johnson Central
3A: Boyle County
2A: Danville
1A: Beechwood

Don Owen is a former sports writer for The Kentucky Post. He also spent 21 years working as sports information director at Northern Kentucky University. A native of Newport, Owen is also the author of two novels.

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