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Don Owen: Will there be prep football in Kentucky this fall? Here’s an alphabetical guide — just in case

Every sports fan in Northern Kentucky wants to see it — high school football on Friday nights this fall. The players are conditioning. The coaches are preparing. The boosters are making predictions.

But the medical experts aren’t as enthusiastic. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t vanished. Neither have the fears of a second wave of the virus in the fall.

Lots of questions. No one really seems to have an answer, only educated guesses. Some will argue that those educated guesses from March and April have caused the nation’s economy to crumble. Others will contend those educated guesses saved numerous lives.

But this is about sports. I have no clue about vaccines, potential cures or politics, so please excuse me for veering away from those subjects.

Highlands has won 23 state championships on the gridiron, second only to Louisville Trinity’s 25 titles. The Bluebirds posted a 6-5 last season. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Meanwhile, back on the gridiron, educated guesses are what we’re all about. Who’s No. 1 in the state? Which team will emerge as the biggest surprise in Northern Kentucky? Can Highlands end the dominance of Covington Catholic?

Here’s an A-to-Z guide for many of your questions — just in case there is football this fall.

A — That’s for Ashland Blazer, which posted a 10-3 record last season and advanced to the 3A state quarterfinals, where Belfry prevailed by a 41-7 score. The Tomcats were actually unbeaten (8-0) against Kentucky schools until that loss to Belfry. The success continued during basketball season for Ashland Blazer, which posted a 33-0 record en route to the 16th Region championship.

B — Beechwood found the going a bit tougher last year after moving up to 2A competition. The Tigers were 5-5 in the regular season, but then won three straight playoff games before losing to Mayfield in the 2A state semifinals. Beechwood spent three decades as the dominant program in Class A football, winning 14 state championships — seven of those during the 1990s. Can the Tigers duplicate some of that success competing in 2A?

C — Covington Catholic is officially a gridiron dynasty. The Colonels have emerged as the dominant football program in Northern Kentucky — much to the dismay of the folks in Fort Thomas — and captured a pair of 5A state championships during the past three years. CovCath, in fact, is 44-1 during the past three years. The Colonels know how to win, and they are very familiar with the road to Kroger Field in Lexington.

CovCath has captured a pair of 5A state championships during the past three years. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

D — As in Danville, a perennial state powerhouse that slipped to a 3-7 record last season. The Admirals posted a 15-0 record in 2017 en route to the 2A state championship, but Danville followed that with a 5-7 mark in 2018.

E — That’s for head coach Eddie Eviston, who has rebuilt CovCath into a dynasty. The Colonels have been to three consecutive 5A state championship games, winning twice. CovCath must replace Kentucky Mr. Football Michael Mayer, who dominated play against Frederick Douglass in the state title game last year. The Colonels finished 15-0 last season and were rarely challenged.

F — As in Frederick Douglass, which entered the 5A state championship game unbeaten (14-0) only to see CovCath pull out a 14-7 win. The Broncos recorded nine shutouts last season and defeated Scott County twice. Frederick Douglass must replace star quarterback Josh McClurg, who passed for 1,443 yards and rushed for another 1,005 yards.

G — Great Crossing High School fielded varsity football for the first time last season and posted a 1-10 record. The Warhawks lone victory was a 28-20 decision over Grant County.

H — Highlands has won 23 state championships on the gridiron, second only to Louisville Trinity’s 25 titles. But the Bluebirds slipped to a 6-5 record last season, including a 38-28 loss to Conner in first round of the 5A state playoffs. The record is a bit deceiving, given close losses to CovCath (13-0), Knoxville Catholic (31-28) and Conner (20-17 in the regular season). The lofty expectations in Fort Thomas, though, include beating CovCath and at least advancing to the 5A state championship game.

I — As in illogical, the only description for the KHSAA’s six classifications for football and the number of teams that qualify for the playoffs. Want some examples of last season’s first-round action? How about Raceland 77, Betsy Layne 0? Or Boyle County 64, Anderson County 14? Not to mention Trinity 63, Marshall County 0, Beechwood 63, Holy Cross 0, and Kentucky Country Day 50, Berea 0.

J — That’s for Johnson Central, which posted a 21-20 win over Boyle County to capture the 4A state championship game in a battle of unbeaten teams. The Golden Eagles finished 15-0 and claimed the 4A title with a victory against a Boyle County squad that many observers thought might be the best in the state in any classification.

K — Kroger Field is proving to be the ideal place for the state championship games. It’s in Lexington and provides a fan-friendly experience on the University of Kentucky campus.

L — Ludlow has produced three consecutive eight-win seasons, including an 8-4 finish in 2019. The Panthers knocked off Bellevue in the opener of the 1A playoffs before losing to Newport Central Catholic in the second round.

M — As in Male High School, which saw its bid for an unbeaten state championship end during a 28-6 loss to Trinity in the 6A title contest at Kroger Field. The Bulldogs — who entered that game 14-0 — had defeated Trinity in the regular season by a 20-17 score in two overtimes.

Newport Central Catholic and Newport are hoping to continue their football rivalry this fall. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

N — Newport head coach Joe Wynn has resurrected the program and led the Wildcats to an 8-4 record last season that included a victory over Lloyd in the 2A playoffs. Wynn, who took over a Newport program that won just four games in three years (4-29 record from 2015-2017), has made Wildcat football relevant again. The 28-16 triumph over Lloyd last November marked the first Newport playoff victory since 2014.

O — That’s for outbreak. Like in COVID-19 outbreak during the season. Just an educated guess, but that would likely be the end of high school football in 2020. Not many programs could survive losing multiple players to a two-week quarantine during the season.

P — Pikeville steamrolled its way to the 1A state championship, finishing 14-0 and capping the season with a 43-0 victory over Paintsville at Kroger Field. The Panthers, who also beat eventually 3A state champion Belfry in the regular season, were not tested during the playoffs. Pikeville’s four playoff scores were 45-12, 54-14, 36-7 and 43-0.

Q — As in quarantined. That will likely — and unfortunately — become an often-used word when talking about football at all levels this season.

R — That’s for the Ratings Percentage Index that Kentucky now uses to determine host sites for certain rounds in the football playoffs.

S — South Oldham just completed a four-year period in which it compiled a 45-8 record. The Dragons must now replace star running back Keaton Martin and his 22 touchdowns. Martin, a four-year starter, also rushed for 1,126 years as South Oldham posted an 11-2 record.

T — As in three, the perfect number of classifications for a state the size of Kentucky. Could you imagine state championship games last year of CovCath vs. Trinity, Johnson Central vs. Belfry, Pikeville vs. Somerset?

CovCath’s Michael Mayer tries to break a tackle after catching a pass against Frederick Douglass last year. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

U — For the three unbeaten teams (CovCath, Pikeville and Johnson Central) in 2019. Boyle County (14-1), Male (14-1), Frederick Douglass (14-1) and Bell County (14-1) each owned perfect records going into their respective state championship games before losing.

V — Virus. What more needs to be said?

W — A pair of 5A schools, West Jessamine and Western, both finished 0-10 last season. The closest loss for either team was Western’s 18-16 setback to Valley.

X — For the Tigers of St. Xavier, who posted an 8-5 record last season. St. Xavier suffered two blowout losses against Male and a 35-3 setback to Trinity.

Y — As in yawners, which more than describes the first round of the KHSAA football playoffs. They don’t call the opening round “Running Clock Friday” for nothing, do they?

Z — Zero. Zilch. The chances of a complete football season being played this fall. Watch what happens when the first outbreak of COVID-19 occurs in preseason practice. Remember what happened to the Kentucky Sweet 16 and NCAA Tournament in March? The same reaction is looming. Just an educated guess.

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport

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