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2018 Prep Football Previews: Ludlow players looking to build on last year’s successful season

The NKyTribune will be featuring each of the 21 high school football teams in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties leading up to the first games of the 2018 season on Aug. 17. We will then provide focused coverage of our local teams throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.

By Evan Merrill
NKyTribune contributor

Following an historic football season in which they finished 8-3 and averaged more than 37 points per game, the Ludlow Panthers look to keep the good times going in Greg Taphouse’s second year as head coach.

Eight wins marked the most in a season since 2004 for the Class 1A program and their riverside community has rallied around the team’s success.

Returning starters Ian Vallandingham, left, and Sean Stratton will play significant roles in Ludlow’s bid for a second straight winning season.

“We’ve got the town back behind us,” Taphouse said. “There’s people flooding the stadium. There’s people flooding me trying to ask what they can do, how they can get involved, when games start. The record as a whole has been a huge positive and a big step up for the program. We have guys wanting to be a part of it, guys wanting to get in the program. The excitement’s just unreal right now.”

The Panthers have the tough task of replacing quarterback Justin Blackburn, who provided 3,300 total yards and 49 touchdowns in rushing and passing combined last season. He also made a team-high 88 tackles as a linebacker.

The leading candidate to fill the quarterback position is junior Ian Vallandingham, the team’s leading pass receiver last year. But he’s still competing with sophomore Noah Hoffmeister for the job and the coach said they could share the position at the start of the season.

No matter who lines up behind center, they’re going to have a tough act to follow. Blackburn set several Ludlow team records during his varsity career and he was nominated for Mr. Kentucky Football after his sensational senior season.

“I’m not expecting to be as good as him and I’m not trying to be the same player as him,” Vallandingham said. “I’m just going to be my own player and just do as well as I can at quarterback. One of my goals isn’t to be as good as Justin. He motivates me to do better though.”

One returning starter in the backfield is senior Sean Stratton, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He expects to have an even more significant role in the Panthers’ offensive scheme this season

“I feel like last season it was all about Justin,” Stratton said. “We all knew it was his team and he was going to get a lot of the credit. But this year we all know it’s our team now. I think we’re ready for this year.”

Coach Greg Taphouse

Following a 7-0 start, Ludlow lost three of their last four games last season. That bad stretch began with a 63-0 loss to Beechwood in a district game and ended with a 30-21 loss to Louisville Holy Cross in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs.

“One thing that we’ve kind of harped on is finishing,” Taphouse said. “We started the season off strong, going 7-0, then we hit that bump at Beechwood and kind of went into a funk for the rest of the year. So our big thing this year is finishing — finishing every drill, finishing every practice, finishing every game, finishing every season — just making sure we’re going 100 percent so we can keep that momentum and keep our play high.”

The Panthers have the same schedule as last season when five of their eight wins were by margins of 27 points or more. Of course, games could be a bit closer this year without a dynamic player like Blackburn in the lineup.

“I think we just need to keep doing what we’re doing, keep working hard,” Stratton said. “Whenever we get to the big game like Beechwood or Williamsburg, feel confident going in (and) just work hard the entire game. After they score and we’re down, don’t stay down. Pick yourself up, push through adversity.”

If the Panthers do pull together and play well, Ludlow could post back-to-back winning seasons like they did in 2014 and 2015.

“Last year was fun, needless to say,” Taphouse said. “We gelled very well. Being it was my first year (as head coach), I was a little nervous going in, how the kids would buy into me, the system, what we’re trying to do as coaches. But I think you can tell from an 8-2 regular-season record they bought in and believed in what we did.”

2017 season: 8-3 record, lost in first round of Class 1A playoffs.
District: Class 1A, District 4 with Beechwood, Bellevue and Dayton.
Head coach: Greg Taphouse (8-3 in one season at Ludlow).

Aug. 17 – CARROLL COUNTY, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24 – BRACKEN COUNTY, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 – at Gallatin County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 – at Newport, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 – at Williamsburg, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 – at Brossart, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 – DAYTON, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 – BEECHWOOD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 – at Bellevue, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 – PARIS, 7 p.m.

Other NKyTribune prep football previews:


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