In some ways, it’s hard to feel thankful about this high school football season. One minute, there’s a game. The next minute, there isn’t. Schedules have changed on the fly, sometimes mere hours before kickoff.
The Paducah Tilghman Blue Tornado have experienced this roller-coaster of emotion first-hand, and last week returned emphatically after a two-week quarantine and blasted Trigg County 53-21 in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs.
It’d be easy to say Tilghman’s turning point could be an Oct. 16 loss at Union County, one where the Braves rumbled and tumbled to a lopsided 49-7 win.
But Blue Tornado coach Jonathan Smith believes his team’s turning point was actually the hours leading up to what was supposed to be an Oct. 23 home game and district matchup against Webster County — before the team had to announce coronavirus concerns and an unfortunate hiatus.
“I think all of us right now that are fortunate enough to make it practice the next day — regardless of what round it is — feel as if though we’ve won a playoff game,” Smith said. “And that’s the God’s honest truth. And I think the farther we go, I continue to embrace it. The thing that’s been important this whole time is that the kids have been able to play the game. Period.
“Just the mental well-being of all of our guys being able to come to practice and getting to interact with other human beings, is just as important as the joy of the game and preparing for a playoff game.”
Now, the Blue Tornado (4-3) get to go back to Morganfield for a second matchup against the Braves (4-4), who last week throttled the Trojans 54-26. Class 3A, District 1 Kentucky Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year Derek Johns could only watch as his Class 3A, District 1 Player of the Year in senior running back Corithian Seales-Portee finished with 142 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries.
Johns also unleashed sophomore running back and wide receiver Kanye Pollard, who delivered to the tune of five total touchdowns — three rushing and two receiving — with 218 yards on the ground and 79 yards in the air.
The Braves are beyond capable of delivering such gashes to the Blue Tornado defense, too, because they’ve already done it once this season. On Oct. 16, the Braves ended a decade of misery against Paducah Tilghman and thumped for more than 375 yards rushing in total. Seales-Portee had most of his 219 yards in the first half, while Kristopher Hughes added another 88 yards on mostly jet sweeps.
“The last time we played them, they lined down and smashed us in the face,” Smith said. “They ran the ball wherever they wanted. And what we have to do is that we have to make sure that, from a defensive standpoint, we are sound in our system for how we’re going to line up. And we’ve got to smash them back and we have to tackle.”
One pivotal piece to that puzzle is going to be senior safety Camdon Marshall. The only game he has missed this season was that miserable matchup in Morganfield, and to devalue his absence from this defense would be malpractice.
He’s still Tilghman’s leading tackler, averaging nearly 10 stops per game this year, and his ability to erase long middle-of-the-field runs and over-the-top deep balls should help offset against Union County’s capability for the big play.
Furthermore, Smith is expecting a more physical style of football from his club, after tough losses to Mayfield and Union County brought some youth and toughness into focus.
“The last two-and-a-half to three weeks that we’ve been able to come back to practice, we’ve gotten after it,” Smith said. “We’ve put the entire team on a five-man sled every single day, or we’ve started every single day with some full-contact live drill.”
Henderson County opts out, McCracken County moves on
McCracken County and its head coach, Marc Clark, were preparing for business as usual this week — even so much as scheduling a 90-minute practice for this morning prior to Thanksgiving — when dreaded news came out of Henderson County on Wednesday afternoon.
According to the Gleaner’s Kevin Patton, the Colonels’ season is over at 7-1, following nondescript COVID-19-related issues.
As such, the Mustangs move on to a Dec. 4 regional championship game against Male/Bullitt East/St. X/DuPont Manual, depending on Friday outcomes and RPI shakedowns.
KFCA announces district awards
The Kentucky Football Coaches Association has revealed its district awards, with several locals earning top nods.
In Class A, District 1, Crittenden County’s Sean Thompson has been named the Coach of the Year, while his senior linebacker/wide receiver Caden McCalister has been named the Player of the Year. The Rockets are currently 6-2 and set to host Russellville this Friday, and McCalister has robust numbers with 289 yards rushing and six scores, 57 tackles, two interceptions and two fumbles recovered.
In Class 2A, District 1, Caldwell County’s Will Barnes has been named Coach of the Year, while his senior quarterback Russ Beshear has been tabbed Player of the Year. The Tigers were a stout 3-4 this season with a pair of narrow losses to Murray and one to Mayfield, while Beshear finished with 1,044 yards passing, 11 passing touchdowns and 173 yards rushing with three more scores. He completed nearly 70% of his passes, too, with only four interceptions.
In Class 6A, District 1, McCracken County’s Hunter Bradley was selected as the district’s Player of the Year, and through seven games, he’s rushed for 1,081 yards and 13 touchdowns while being the team’s leading receiver with 16 catches, 226 receiving yards and another touchdown.
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