Fairview has poured it on Paintsville over the past few seasons.
Since 2009, the Eagles have outscored the Tigers by an average of 45.5 points per game.
Paintsville first-year coach Joe Chirico acknowledged that his team doesn’t stack up with Fairview and Raceland quite yet, but he is thrilled with the leaps the Tigers have made this season.
“When I took the job (in June), we talked about what it takes to be a championship team,” Chirico said. “We’ve gone about this as a family. It’s about hard work and being about the team instead of personal goals.”
Whatever Chirico has done, his kids have responded.
Without a winning season since 2005, Paintsville is 5-1 and it’s ranked No. 6 in Class A in the latest Associated Press poll.
The Tigers have just 26 players on their roster, while Fairview has 68, but there are reasons to believe the Tigers could potentially be competitive with the Eagles (AP No. 3) tonight in Westwood. Kickoff is at 7:30.
Fairview coach Nathan McPeek said his players took notice while watching film of the Pikeville-Paintsville game. The Tigers were tied with the Panthers 21-21 with 42 seconds remaining in the game before Pikeville’s Chase Hall broke off a long TD run.
“That’s opened up our kids eyes a little bit,” McPeek said. “The main thing I see (from Paintsville) is that the kids believe in what Coach Chirico and his staff are doing. Offensively, they have good skill people, and defensively, they’re sound.”
Senior quarterback Mark Fannin is completing 65 percent of his passes for 645 yards, throwing 10 for touchdowns. Lane Daniels (19 catches), Peyton Smith (12) and Luke Trimble (8) are his top targets.
Sophomore running back Kent Phelps has rushed for 729 yards and eight scores on 93 carries.
Chirico has been just as pleased, though, with the performance of his offensive line. The front five are Blake Williams, Prater Helton, Jonathan Lemaster, Dillon Howard and Jordan Cox.
Helton switched from fullback to the offensive line during the preseason, a move that spoke volumes to Chirico.
“Here’s a kid who’s been a running back his whole life, and we approach him about it and he signed off on it,” Chirico said. “It’s pretty exciting that we have a bunch of kids like that.”
One of Paintsville’s top playmakers, Kash Daniel, has been out with a fracture in his leg for the past three games. He is done for the season.
Fairview is dealing with the sidelining of one of its best players, too. Isaiah King (broken collarbone) will miss the rest of the regular season. He could return for the playoffs, according to McPeek.
McPeek has been pleased with the progress of the Eagles’ young defensive backs with King absent from the secondary. Kyle Stormes is starting in King’s spot. Jalen Thomas and Fred Hightower are seeing a lot of time in the secondary, too.
“It’s getting better. We don’t have a Mason Rutherford (who graduated last year) where we say, ‘Cover their best receiver and take him out of the game,’” McPeek said. “But that’s not to say they can’t be developed.”
Fairview (6-0) has allowed more passing yards (967) than rushing yards (833) this season.
The Eagles’ running backs, nestling in behind a big, strong offensive line, have put together some outstanding performances this season. Tanner Dolen, Kurtlen Brown and Armonde Yetts have each run for more than 550 yards. Yetts blew up for 290 yards and two scores in a 44-37 win over Pike County Central.
Beating Paintsville tonight would give Fairview its 28th consecutive regular season victory. The Eagles last lost a regular season contest at Lexington Christian on Oct. 22, 2010. They haven’t lost a regular season home game since LCA beat them on Oct. 23, 2009.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.