Male puts its 14-0 record on the line at 6 p.m. EST Saturday against No. 9 Lafayette
More than 50 years since wearing the purple and gold, Garnett Phelps still is waiting for a Male High School football squad to accomplish what he and his teammates did in back-to-back seasons.
Phelps was the quarterback for the Bulldogs in 1963 and 1964, when they posted consecutive 11-0 records and won state championships in Class 3-A, then the class for the state’s biggest schools.
For a proud program that ranks second in the state in all-time victories (858), it seems unfathomable that Male hasn’t posted an undefeated season since Phelps’ days.
But that could end Saturday.
“It’s about time, don’t you think?” Phelps said with a laugh.
Male – No. 1 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings – will put its 14-0 record on the line at 6 p.m. EST Saturday against No. 9 Lafayette (12-2) in the Class 6-A championship game at Houchens Industries/L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky.
The Bulldogs have won three state titles – 1993, 1998 and 2000 – since Phelps’ playing days but finished 14-1, 13-2 and 14-1, respectively, in those seasons.
Four times – 1994, 2002, 2006 and 2014 – Male has entered the playoffs with undefeated records, only to fall short of a perfect season. The 2002 season ended with a 59-56 loss to Trinity in a classic 4-A championship game. (See: Brian Brohm/Michael Bush.)
But many believe this finally could be the year for purple-and-gold perfection.
“It would feel kind of hollow if we didn’t finish this thing off,” Male coach Chris Wolfe said.
Phelps knows what it takes to complete an undefeated season and likes what he sees in this Bulldogs squad.
The 1964 Male squad featured three first-team All-State selections in Phelps, fullback Pete Kuhn and lineman Othello Brim. Phelps went on to play in college at Missouri. Kuhn was the nephew of head coach Charlie Kuhn. Brim “was a dominating force,” Phelps said. “Everybody was afraid of him, even his own teammates.”
Phelps sees plenty of similarities between the 1964 and 2015 Bulldogs, especially their leadership. This Male squad features 32 seniors on the roster. And he said both teams were equally strong on offense and defense.
“They are impressive,” Phelps said. “They have plenty of speed, and I like the quarterback (Hayden Shelton). Kids can go get the ball when he puts it up there. But what stands out is this group can fly. We had speed, but we didn’t have this much speed. They have speed in all categories.”
The speed, the leadership and the depth have added up to a dominant squad that is averaging 45.5 points per game and allowing just 5.6. The defense has posted shutouts in seven of 14 games.
Wolfe has been most impressed with an offense that has made it nearly impossible for opponents to key on one aspect.
If defenses load the box to stop running back Devin Gentry, Shelton can hit one of several talented receivers in Zackery Smith, Marcus Clark, Ethan Britt or Keion Wakefield. Focus on the passing game and Gentry is capable of busting loose on any play.
And after heartbreaking playoff losses to Scott County and Trinity the past two years, Wolfe said this squad has found a new level of toughness.
“Now the pressure is like, ‘This class is going to leave. We have to finish the deal,’” Wolfe said. “I give credit to these seniors. They’ve had a different mentality this year about finishing. … They were not going to have a repeat of the previous years.
“It feels like the time is right, but the story hasn’t been written yet. We have to finish this thing off.”
Lafayette enters with a nine-game winning streak, having put big regular-season losses to Trinity (70-14) and Scott County (65-46) in its past.
Offensive linemen Landon Young (Kentucky commit) and Jedrick Wills are big-time college prospects, and junior quarterback Walker Wood also has committed to UK.
Wolfe is a fan of Wood, who has passed for 2,360 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 1,505 yards and 21 TDs this season.
“He is a tough, tough competitor,” Wolfe said. “You can see it through the film because he runs through tackles. He’ll take the ball on third-and-1 or third-and-2 or near the goal line, and he wants the ball in his hands. He’s not going to shy away from contact. He’s an elusive kid with a big arm. He really makes them go.”
But Wolfe is confident his stout defense can slow Wood and the rest of the Generals. If they can, a 15-year title drought will come to an end.
“Fifteen years is a long time, especially when you’re at Male,” Gentry said. “It just makes it more important to bring it home.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
STATE FOOTBALL FINALS
At Houchens Industries/L.T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green
All times Eastern
* Class A – Pikeville 42, Beechwood 28
* Class 6-A – Male (14-0) vs. Lafayette (12-2), 6 p.m.
* Class 5-A – Bowling Green (13-1) vs. Pulaski County (13-1), 9 p.m.
* Class 2-A – Mayfield (13-1) vs. Newport Central Catholic (9-5), 2 p.m.
* Class 3-A – Lexington Catholic (11-3) vs. Belfry (13-1), 5 p.m.
* Class 4-A – South Warren (14-0) vs. Johnson Central (12-1), 8 p.m.