Well, Pikeville High School got out to the type of start we, at KPGFootball, forecast. We predicted it would be 54-0 in favor of the Panthers and it turned out 46-0. If the varsity had played a little longer, well, who knows? There is one certainty for Panther Nation, the sledding is going to get a lot tougher, and immediately, as the Eagles from Lexington Christian Academy visit this Friday night. LCA is coming off a big win, 34-20, over a Class 3A heavyweight (Waggener High School). In keeping with the established formula, let’s break down this matchup and KPGFootball will predict a winner at the end.
A look back…
As we foretold, it was rather fortuitous the Holy Cross played in week zero was the Covington variety and not the Louisville version. Not that we don’t think Pikeville, whom we have ranked number one in Class 1A for the second straight week (including the preseason), couldn’t handle Holy Cross-Louisville. That aside, I believe all would agree it wouldn’t be as easy as it was beating the school in Covington. The Panthers rushed for 197 yards on the night and were led by Nate Collins. Collins gained 85 yards on only 6 carries and scored one rushing TD. The leading TD scorer on the evening against the Indians was QB Connor Roberts. Roberts gained 44 yards on 4 carries scoring 3 rushing TDs while having a pretty limited night throwing the football, 3 of 6 for 49 yards passing. Pikeville High got some live game reps for freshman QB, Isaac McNamee, who completed 2 of his 8 attempts for 16 yards with an interception. Believe me, it would have been considerably in bad taste to throw the football anymore than the Panthers did playing such an over-matched opponent. Kyle Watkins caught a pair of passes for 40 yards and Tanner Hamilton went 2 for 3 on PAT attempts.
On defense, Jesse Sparks had 2 TFLs (tackles for loss) and Connor Roberts was credited with a tackle and a half for a loss. Pikeville sacked the Indian QB three times with Nate Collins, Byron Hammonds, and Josh Taylor each contributing a sack a piece. Brady Clark contributed a fumble recovery. Overall, the defense only allowed 20 yards of passing and the run-stoppers pitched in 49 yards of ground losses for a Holy Cross total offensive production of a negative 29 yards in week zero. Ouch, that will leave a mark! Up next for Pikeville, things will get serious and quickly as the Eagles from Lexington Christian, 34-20 winners over Waggener in their week zero, visit Pike County, Kentucky for the Pike County Bowl.
A look ahead…
Lexington Christian Academy (LCA) graduated 12 seniors from an 11-3 ball club which got handled last year in the playoffs by Danville 49-7 in the Regional Championship game. The game was played in Danville and the game between the two was closer during the regular season, when played at LCA, with LCA still losing to Danville 44-28 on October 20, 2017. With the firepower Danville had last year, who did play with them. Not too many.
LCA lost Senior QB Logan Nieves who gained 1,008 yards for them last season over 152 rushing attempts and scored 15 rushing TDs. The Eagles also graduated Dillon Wheatley. Wheatley, whose brother is still on the team and playing defensive line, was among the very elite running backs in the Commonwealth of Kentucky a season ago. As a senior, Wheatley carried it 269 times for 1,747 yards and 31 rushing touchdowns. That number is so astounding I thought using an abbreviation for touchdown (i.e. “TD”) as I am prone to do, would cheapen it somehow so I didn’t.
LCA losing Logan Nieves and Wheatley is catastrophic. I mean, Nieves not only rushed it 152 times for over 1,000 yards and scored 15 rushing TDs but he also completed 141 of his 211 passing attempts for 2,110 passing yards and 22 TDs against 8 picks. How do you replace 2 players (Nieves and Wheatley) who accounted for 68 TDs either throwing or running? In week zero’s game with Waggener, the Eagles turned to Jayden Barnhardt, Class of 2020. Barnhardt, should he need to be spelled, will be replaced by either senior captain, Blane Hardin or freshman, up and comer, Elijah Hammond. Hardin is the bigger of the three and also plays LB on defense as Barnhardt’s defensive position is defensive back and Hammond is a freshman. Barnhardt wears number 15, Hardin wears number 2, and Hammond wears number 13. Against Waggener, Barnhardt spread it around to two freshmen, in Dearious Smith and Xavier Brown, who both had monster games in the opener especially for being a couple of frosh. Senior Jed Green (No. 29) went down prior to the Waggener game and it is believed the 150 pound WR/DB will be available for Friday night’s game with Pikeville, but we shall see.
Upfront for the Eagles, the blocking is mainly contributed by Ben Whitman (who doubles along the defensive front too), Chris Zaccerili, and freshman starter Anthony Big Bear Johns. Throw in Tyler Morris who played a ton in the opener and the Eagles have four freshmen either starting or playing starters’ minutes (Johns, Morris, Smith, and Brown) with three more playing quite regularly and really being counted on as well in Jeffrey Selby, Frankie Knight, and Elijah Hammond. That is a lot of youth and inexperience playing a lot of meaningful minutes to not believe an experienced team, like Pikeville, can’t capitalize off of that to reverse, at home, what was a 49-21 loss to a much more experience team, from a personnel standpoint, in Lexington a year ago.
It is probably just as good Nieves graduated as his favorite targets, Drayden Burton (50 receptions for 787 yards and 7 scores) and Caelan Lebryk (46 receptions for 766 yards and 7 scores), went with him. So, if Barnhardt can’t find a freshman to whom to throw it, look for him to hand hand it off quite a bit, to whom we can’t tell you, probably a freshman along the lines of Xavier Brown or Frankie Knight. Perhaps, they could move the Wheatley kid brother from defensive line to running back, it’s in his genetics.
On defense, LCA returns all of its previous season’s top tacklers except the one whom transferred. Linebackers Kaleb Bolton (73 stops) and Jayden Barnhardt (65 tackles) return but Walker Parks, who during his sophomore season, tallied 49 tackles playing along the LCA defensive front and is believed to be one of Kentucky’s very best defensive linemen has transferred to Class 6A Frederick Douglass. That amounts to as big a loss for the defensive front as losing Nieves and Wheatley to graduation was for the offensive running and passing games. LCA, in either Class 2A or any Classification, for that matter, should be among the class of Lexington prep football all Fall and will be a tough test for Pikeville at the Pike County Bowl. Overall, LCA figures to be a difficult to handle young team who may continue to perform at a very high level provided some upper class-men chip-in adequate leadership to build on the program they have presently well under construction. If this group approaches the 11-3 it accomplished in 2017, the LCA coaching staff may be able to claim the best job of coaching a football team in all of the Kentucky prep ranks.
The win over a Waggener team with a lot of really good young talent was pretty impressive. However, let’s not lose our collective shirts here, Waggener was coming off a 5-7 year in 2017. LCA has lost a lot from off its roster, production wise, and these freshmen littering the lineup may be the best group of freshmen in the Commonwealth but it doesn’t make them any older or more mature. These freshmen, as eighth graders for LCA, did win the middle school state football championship. One thing is certain, Johns, Knight, Brown, and the crew do run out onto a football field expecting to win, so there is that. That may go a long way, but it shouldn’t go a long way against the top ranked (our opinion) team in the 1A classification on the road. We like the Panthers in this one.
KPGFootball’s Prediction… PHS 14 – LCA 10
Join us next week as we look back at this game and preview the next match-up and give us a follow on Twitter @KPGFootball and subscribe to the on-line magazine by going to www.kentuckyprepgridiron.com and follow the prompts. Until next week, Panthers, this is Fletcher Long, reporting for KPGFootball, reminding all of you ballers out there to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE.
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