The best small-high school football games in Ky. each week

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2020 Kentucky high school football preview

The 2020 high school football season kicks off Friday, Sept. 11. High school sports beat writer Jared Peck is rolling out several stories over the next two weeks in the Herald-Leader and on previewing the season around the city, region and state and highlighting the top players and games. Click below to read all of his previous stories.

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Looking over the schedule of games for some of Kentucky’s smallest schools, football programs in Class A, there are some that jump off the page immediately.

For example, No. 2 Paintsville at No. 8 Crittenden County on Sept. 18 is not only a great game between two top programs, it’s a game that almost never happens in the regular season due to how far these two schools are apart geographically — 345 miles, about a five-and-a-half hour drive.

“Yeah, we had to try to find games where we can find them and Crittenden County is a very good football program,” said Paintsville Coach Joe Chirico, who led the Tigers to the Class A state championship game last season. “They had reached out by email and we just somehow got it to work. We’re driving there. So they’re excited about that.”

The game was put together in the last month to fill out a pandemic-reduced schedule. It also harkens to the 1985 Class A state championship, which Crittenden County won 14-6 at the old Cardinal Stadium in Louisville.

“I’ve had several people mention that,” Chirico said. “And, it’s exciting to go down there. I think they returned every single player off their team from last year. That’s going to be a real challenge for us.”

Crittenden County does return almost its entire starting roster off a 10-3 1st District championship team, including senior running back Xander Tabor, who rushed for 1,616 yards and 17 TDs. Paintsville will be led by senior dual-threat QB Jake Hyden, who combined for more than 2,300 yards of offense and 25 touchdowns in 2019.

Chirico goes to great lengths to find tough opponents each year, and he’ll play them wherever he can. Last year, the Tigers arranged a regular-season game against perennial power Beechwood in Georgetown. This year, the Tigers are taking on two monster Class 2A teams to finish the season, going to Lexington Christian on Oct. 30 and hosting Breathitt County on Nov. 6.

“I don’t know, they’ll probably want to fire me at the end of this because I’ve done that,” Chirico said, laughing. “Our kids, they are looking forward to seeing what they can do, and you know, every year we say we want to win a state title. That’s how we prepare. That hasn’t happened, but that’s the mentality. We’re playing to win.”

Here’s a week-by-week glance at some of the other top games in Class A this season. All times local to the host site.

Week 1 (Sept. 11-12)

Game of the Week: No. 1 Pikeville at No. 5 Raceland, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12. The Rams have a healthy Jacob Heighton back at QB for his senior year after a shortened 2019 that still showed him throwing for 18 TDs and running for two more. Pikeville also has its signal caller back in junior Isaac McNamee who was named MVP in the Panthers’ state title victory. Pikeville squeaked out a 12-6 win in this rivalry last year at home.

No. 2 Paintsville at East Jessamine, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11. This game against the Class 5A Jaguars came down to the last possession in 2019.

Frankfort at No. 6 Williamsburg, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11. The Panthers have 10 starters back on offense and defense and high hopes for 2020, especially with junior Azeno Williams in the backfield coming off a 999-yard, nine rushing TD season. Could be a statement game for either.

Walton-Verona at No. 4 Newport Central Catholic, 7 p.m. Sept. 11. NCC got off to a 1-2 start last year, but found its form after beating the Bearcats in Week 4. Walton-Verona comes in this year for the opener ranked No. 9 in Class 2A.

Week 2 (Sept. 18)

Game of the Week: Belfry at No. 1 Pikeville, 7:30 p.m. It’s your defending Class 3A state champion (and Class 3A No. 1 preseason) vs. the defending Class A state champion. Oh, and they’re 25 miles apart in the same county. There aren’t enough adjectives.

No. 2 Paintsville at No. 8 Crittenden County, 7:30 p.m.

No. 6 Williamsburg at Somerset, 7:30 p.m. The Yellow Jackets’ preseason rating is going to be severely tested against Class 2A No. 1 and defending champion Somerset. Williamsburg’s experience is in the trenches and at linebacker, where leading tackler Chris Howard roams, which should help.

Danville at No. 9 Hazard, 7:30 p.m. The Bulldogs welcome Class 2A’s No. 8 Admirals with both teams looking to show they’re underrated.

No. 10 Bethlehem at Eminence, 7:30 p.m. The Eagles seem on the verge of a breakthrough season in Coach Bryan Walker’s third year. Eminence will be no pushover.

Week 3 (Sept. 25)

Game of the Week: No. 9 Hazard at No. 2 Paintsville, 7:30 p.m. Visiting Paintsville won 23-12 last season.

Newport at No. 4 Newport Central Catholic, 7 p.m. The Class 2A Wildcats were 6-0 going into last year’s rivalry game. NCC snapped that win streak with a 37-6 rout.

Lexington Christian at No. 6 Williamsburg, 7:30 p.m. Putting two of the very best Class 2A teams on your schedule is certainly one way to go about it.

Somerset at Russellville, 7 p.m. Russellville has 19 of 21 starters back, including dual-threat QB Lennon Ries. Making noise against the Class 2A state champs would be significant.

Week 4 (Oct. 2)

Game of the Week: Ashland Blazer at No. 5 Raceland, 7:30 p.m. The Rams greet the Class 3A No. 5 Tomcats.

Somerset at No. 9 Hazard, 7:30 p.m.

Washington County at No. 10 Bethlehem, 7:30 p.m. Washington County is underrated as a Class 2A team because it’s in the same district as Somerset, LCA and Danville.

Week 5 (Oct. 9)

Game of the Week: No. 10 Bethlehem at No. 7 Holy Cross (Louisville), 7:30 p.m. Bethlehem will mark the first team the Cougars will have played that is its own size to this point of the season. They’ll either be beaten up or a lot to handle. Holy Cross QB Chaz Geraghty had nearly 2,000 yards of total offense last year.

No. 9 Hazard at Harlan County, 7:30 p.m. The Black Bears were 8-4 in Class 4A last year, but only won this game 22-20.

Taylor County at Campbellsville, 7:30 p.m. A three-game skid ended the Eagles’ 2019 season, but that could be just a blip. Senior quarterback Arren Hash threw for 2,517 yards and 28 TDs and senior running back Reggie Thomas could have a breakout year. Taylor County is No. 9 in Class 3A.

Week 6 (Oct. 16)

Game of the Week: No. 9 Hazard at No. 1 Pikeville. 7:30 p.m.

Frankfort at No. 3 Kentucky Country Day, 7:30 p.m. KCD went 13-1 last season on its run to a district and regional title. The Bearcats are missing some offense but have 10 starters back on defense.

Campbellsville at No. 10 Bethlehem, 7:30 p.m. These two teams split a pair of track meets last season with the Eagles taking the regular-season game 48-42 and then losing in overtime 46-39 in the playoffs.

Week 7 (Oct. 23)

Game of the Week: No. 2 Paintsville at No. 5 Raceland. 7:30 p.m.

No. 8 Crittenden County at Russellville 7 p.m. Russellville had a down year in 2019. No one expects that to continue. These two teams are likely to meet again in the playoffs with a trophy on the line.

Dayton at Ludlow, 7 p.m. Winner probably avoids Newport Central Catholic in the first round of the playoffs and this game was a 54-46 Panthers win in 2019. The Greendevils have 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Marksberry back.

Week 8 (Oct. 30)

Game of the Week: Beechwood at No. 4 Newport Central Catholic, 7 p.m. Class 2A No. 3 Beechwood dominated Class A for years while NCC had a great run in 2A. The roles are reversed. They’re both still exceptional.

No. 2 Paintsville at Lexington Christian Academy, 7:30 p.m.. LCA is the preseason No. 4 in Class 2A. And that might be low.

No. 7 Holy Cross (Louisville) at Walton-Verona, 7:30 p.m. Cougars step up in class for a tough road test to prepare for playoffs.

Week 9 (Nov. 6)

Game of the Week: Breathitt County at No. 2 Paintsville, 7:30 p.m. Breathitt is a preseason No. 5 in Class 2A.

Russell at No. 5 Raceland, 7:30 p.m. Prime playoff tuneup: Russell should be in contention in Class 3A’s 7th District.

Paducah Tilghman at No. 8 Crittenden County, 7 p.m. The Blue Tornado is ranked No. 7 in Class 3A and won the 1st District in 2019.

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