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Walton-Verona football team needs major upset to reach final four in Class 2A state playoff bracket

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

Walton-Verona’s football program cleared a major hurdle last season when the Bearcats reached the semifinals of the Class 2A state playoffs for the first time after getting knocked off in the second round for five consecutive years.

This year’s team needs one more win to make it back to the final four, but it’ll take a major upset to get there. The Bearcats’ next opponent is Breathitt County, the only undefeated team in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A bracket.

Walton-Verona coach Jeff Barth

A statewide realignment dropped Breathitt County from Class 3A to 2A this season and the Bobcats totally dominated the other four teams in their new district. The closest score in any of those games was 35-6.

But Walton-Verona was in a similar position last year when it faced a high-scoring 11-1 Glasgow team in the quarterfinals and came away with an 18-14 win.

Most of the offensive starters on last year’s Walton-Verona team graduated. That’s one reason the Bearcats got off to a 2-3 start this season, but they went 4-0 in district seeding games and finished the regular season with a 6-4 record.

In the first two rounds of playoffs, Walton-Verona outscored district rivals Gallatin County, 41-6, and Owen County, 48-20, with the offense getting 432 of 601 total yards and nine of 12 touchdowns on the ground in those two victories.

The Bearcats have relied on a strong rushing attack ever since Jeff Barth became head coach in 2009. Going into Friday’s game, they have 2,298 rushing and 851 passing yards this season. It will be interesting to see how well they move the ball against a Breathitt County defense that’s allowed 111 points in 12 games for a 9.2 average.

Walton-Verona’s leading rusher is senior Peyton Smith with 102 carries for 658 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s followed by sophomore Jacob Gaines with 578 yards and senior Travis Brauer with 415 yards.

Brauer is a first-year starter at quarterback. He has completed 51 of 108 passes for 851 yards and 10 TDs.  That’s the second highest passing yards the Bearcats have had in Barth’s 10 years as head coach.

Four local teams have higher power rankings than their opponents going into Friday’s quarterfinal games — Newport Central Catholic in Class 1A, Beechwood in Class 2A, Covington Catholic in Class 5A and Simon Kenton in Class 6A.

NewCath will play at Louisville Holy Cross because of the seeding format being used this season. But last week’s Class 2A power rankings had NewCath at No. 2 and Holy Cross at No. 8.

In Class 6A, Simon Kenton was ranked No. 7 and Lexington Tates Creek was No. 10 last week, but the Pioneers are also on the road due to the seeding format. Boyle County, the top-ranked team in Class 4A, is heavily favored in its home game against No. 12 Scott.

Friday’s state quarterfinal games

Newport Central Catholic (10-2) at Louisville Holy Cross (10-2), 7:30 p.m.
Walton-Verona (8-4) at Breathitt County (12-0), 7:30 p.m.
West Carter (9-3) at Beechwood (7-5), 7:30 p.m.
Scott (8-4) at Boyle County (12-0), 7:30 p.m.
Madison Southern (7-5) at Covington Catholic (12-0), 7:30 p.m.
Simon Kenton (8-4) at Lexington Tates Creek (8-4), 7:30 p.m.

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