It’s not often two defending state football champions meet in the playoffs, but that will be the case in a highly anticipated showdown in Mayfield, Ky., on Friday.
Mayfield High School will host DeSales at 8 p.m. EST in a Class 2-A semifinal, with the winner advancing to next week’s state final in Bowling Green, Ky.
DeSales (11-2) has won the past two Class 2-A state titles. Mayfield (12-1) appeared in six straight Class A finals, winning four, before jumping to Class 2-A this season.
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It’s a matchup many observers have predicted since the Kentucky High School Athletic Association finalized its football realignment last year.
“I haven’t looked forward to this because I didn’t want to look past anyone else on our schedule,” DeSales coach Harold Davis said. “But I know a lot of other people have been looking forward to it. I know a lot of people predicted this. It’s one more win to get back to the state championship game, and that’s the ultimate goal.”
Along with talented players on both sides, it’s a meeting of two coaches who have enjoyed incredible success in the playoffs.
In his 17th season at Mayfield, Joe Morris has a 61-11 record in the playoffs and has reached eight state finals, winning five. In his fourth season at DeSales, Davis is 16-1 in the playoffs, with his only loss coming to Caldwell County, 43-31, in the 2012 state semifinals.
Davis said he believes the key to his program’s postseason success is not changing routines developed during the regular season.
“I don’t think we coach any different or are any more intense,” Davis said. “I think when the kids see us not getting frustrated or anxious that it feeds down to them. It’s not just me. It’s all the coaches. We all stay the same way throughout the season.”
DeSales enters with a six-game winning streak after whipping rival Christian Academy 37-18 in last week’s Region Two final.
Since a 16-0 loss to CAL on Oct. 9, the Colts are averaging 44 points per game. Junior Austin Tharp leads the rushing attack with 778 yards and 11 touchdowns, but DeSales has several other threats in junior running backs Gilly Simpson and Mitch Sirohman, senior running back Ryan Smith and senior quarterback Austin Johnson.
“That’s what we got back to (after the CAL loss),” Davis said. “What we’ve been in the past is having a lot of different guys touching the ball, whether it’s running or catching it. It just makes it tougher on the defenses we play. They can’t concentrate on one guy.”
DeSales’ defense likely won’t be able to concentrate on one guy, either, as Mayfield has multiple threats.
The passing game is led by junior quarterback Landon Arnett (2,514 passing yards, 35 touchdowns) and senior receiver Lane Kennemore (38 catches, 799 yards, 14 TDs). Junior Trajon Bright paces the rushing game with 1,208 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Davis is hopeful his team’s regular-season matchup with bigger schools such as Ballard, Butler, Fern Creek and North Hardin will have it prepared for Mayfield’s speed.
“They have great overall team speed,” Davis said. “Hopefully we’re not too shocked by it.”
Along with Mayfield’s speed, Davis also is concerned about a 3 ½-hour bus ride to what he expects to be a hostile environment. The Cardinals had won 49 straight home games before a 37-31 overtime loss to McCracken County on Sept. 11.
“They have a lot of tradition, and I’ve heard from people how tough it is to play down there,” Davis said. “I know they’ll have a big crowd there, and our fans travel well, too. It’s going to be an exciting game.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
GAME OF THE WEEK
* Who: DeSales (11-2) at Mayfield (12-1).
* When: 8 p.m. EST Friday.
* Jason’s pick: Mayfield 21-20.