It’s game week and Labor Day: Let’s get this thing started the right way. Matchup Analysis of the biggest game in the Bluegrass, Sept. 11, @JCAthletics_ at @BellCoFootball

Two giants collide in Paintsville, Kentucky this Friday night!

Out of all the opening games to begin probably the most anticipated opening nights in the history of Kentucky High School football, Johnson Central at Bell County takes the proverbial cake. Johnson Central won the Class 4A State Football Championship in 2019, finishing 15-0, and Bell County played for the title in 3A and finished 14-1. Here’s how we see the matchup.

First, for the visiting Johnson Central Eagles:

Class 4A, District 8, preseason Class 4A rank: No. 1; Kentucky overall rank: No. 6.

The Eagles are on a 15-game win streak and coming off a title. They are projected to do very well this coming year and are preseason ranked the top team in the 4A classification to enter the season.

2020 Projected Regular Season Finish: 8-0

Undefeated Regular Season Probability: 72%

Top Returning Players:

Top QB from 2019: No

Top RB from 2019: No

While Devon Johnson is gone and will be missed, we hear Mason Lawson, Sophomore, may just be the right tonic to make Eagle fans forget anyone graduated.

Top Receiver from 2019: No

While the top receiver graduated, what the Eagles do have returning is the top TE in the 2021 graduating class state-wide in Zach Russell. Russell has committed to Bowling Green, FBS, and is listed at 6-3, 230-pounds. He had 14-receptions for 246-yards wit 2-TDs in 2019 for a team which rarely throws the football anyway. Russell is a crushing sixth-member of the OL.

Top Defender from 2019: No

Now the top defender graduated but there are many capable guys remaining. Mason LeMaster returns after having 132 stops in 2019 with 11 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 2 FFs, and 2 FRs. Look out for a young guy named Mason Lawson. He got some spot play at DB in 2019, especially for being a freshman on a roster good enough to finish 15-0 and State Champions in Kentucky 4A football. We hear Lawson’s athleticism is off the charts and he could even figure into the offensive backfield as his offensive position is RB.

Top OL Return from 2019: Yes

For the Eagles this is a huge and emphatic yes. Offensive Tackle Grant Bingham, 6-6, 302-pounds, is Kentucky’s top tackle in his graduating class. He is rated a 3-star recruit by 247Sports and already has been offered by UK, Arizona State, Arkansas, Cincinnati, and Georgia Tech. Also returning is arguably the best OG in Kentucky’s class of 2022, Owen Lemaster. LeMaster is a 6-0, 260-pounder on the radar of many programs. LeMaster was selected first-team All-State by the Associated Press as only a sophomore following the 2019 season and was KPGFootball freshman and sophomore All-State as well in both 2018 & 2019. Gritty and tough as nails Cameron Willis, class of 2021, returns and he doesn’t do but two things upfront, fight and win. Maybe the toughest guy the Eagles have upfront. Has a championship wrestling history to go along with his football skill set.

Next, the home-standing Bell County Bobcats:

Class 3A, District 5, preseason Class 3A rank: No. 2; Kentucky overall rank: No. 18.

2020 Projected Regular Season Finish: 7-1

Undefeated Regular Season Probability: 10%

Top Returning Players:

Top QB from 2019: No

London Stephney graduated. To replace him, if that is possible, you have to find another guy to throw for 1,642-yards passing with 19-TDs through the air and rush for 1,244-yards on 124-carries with 17-TDs rushing, tied for the team lead in 2019. He is what we call in the high school game…a huge miss.

Top RB from 2019: Yes

Brandon Baker (Jr) is one of the best RBs in Kentucky. In 2019 as only a sophomore, Baker logged 156-carries for 1,418-yards with 17-rushing TDs to tie with Stephney for the team lead.

Leading receiver from 2019: No

As a caveat to the loss of the leading receiver, Cameron Burnett, a junior this year, had a very fine season as a sophomore. Burnett had 17-receptions a year ago for 299-yards and 5-TDs. He is the leading receiver returning for 2020 and should grow well into the role of primary target downfield.

Leading defender from 2019: Yes

Hunter Bailey will be a senior in 2020 and all he did his junior year is log 133-stops, 6 TFLs, 1 FF, 1 FR, and 1 INT. Tyson Thomas will also be a senior and is coming off a season with 100-tackles, 17 TFLs, 5 sacks, 1FF. Dawson Widener, class of 2021, returns bringing with him his 2019 production of 73-tackles, 13 TFLs, 1 sack, 1FF. Jonathan Lankford is the top returning 3rd-level defender for Bell County. He had 7-picks in 2019 for 174-return yards and 2 of the team’s 3 pick-sixes.

Top OL from 2019 returning: No

Bell County will have to replace reliable lineman in Timothy Lawson, Caleb Lefevers, and Tyler Nelson but the good news is both David Avant and Gage Brock return and Tucker Hunley (Class of 2022) all look like they are ready to step up and lead the way for what may be an inexperienced, but capable group.

On a neutral field: According to the algorithm we regularly consult to help in our analysis of such things, Johnson Central, on a neutral field, is 12-points better than Bell County. We believe the home field will be worth more in Bell County, Kentucky than perhaps anywhere else in the commonwealth. We don’t know what the capacity rules and social distancing requirements will be for Friday night but we are fairly sure no one in Bell County knows either, nor do they care.

Odds makers: If we were making book on this game, we would be giving the home standing Bobcats 4-points in this game.

KPGFootball predicted final score: We believe Johnson Central escapes Bell County 21-17.

This is Coach HB Lyon, reporting for KPGFootball, and we’re JUST CALLING IT LIKE WE SEE IT!

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