Raceland football hasn’t hosted a regional final since 2008, when Lexington Christian handed the Rams a haunting loss that still lingers inside Rams Stadium.
Possibly waiting in the wings is a shot at redemption, in more ways than one.
If Raceland beats Phelps on Friday and proceeds to beat either Paintsville or South Floyd on Nov. 15, the regional final will nestle itself into the small tight-knit community of Raceland-Worthington for the first time since it saw a 20-3 regional championship lead morph into a 27-20 defeat.
The opponent will likely be Pikeville, the team that abruptly halted the Rams in shocking fashion in the second round a year ago.
“We were humbled last year,” said Raceland coach T.J. Maynard. “It ended way too early for us.”
Maynard is glad that the next three weeks will be spent in the confines of the Rams’ own home.
“It’s an awesome feeling to know that you’re going to be playing at home in front of home crowds,” said the fourth-year Rams coach. “We don’t have to get on that yellow dog (school bus) and travel.”
First up is one-win Phelps. The Hornets’ only victory came against Allen Central on Oct. 11. Overall, they’ve been outscored 446-226 this season.
Raceland (8-2) has avoided full contact in practice this week, focusing instead on fundamentals.
“We’re just trying to polish everything up and spend more time on our young guys,” Maynard said.
The reserves will be ready to take the field if Raceland shoots out to a commanding advantage.
Kane Snyder, the Rams’ second-leading rusher, will miss Friday’s game with a “bum ankle,” according to Maynard. He should return next week.
Daylin Beach leads Raceland on the ground, with 895 yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games.
Quarterback Adam Elkins tallied 1,245 passing yards, 15 TDs and six picks in the regular season. He also has 314 yards on the ground.
Connor Messer leads the dangerous offense with 627 receiving yards and nine scores. Rodney Vance has a team-best 29 catches.
The Rams are coming off a shutout of Ironton. Following a 38-35 loss to Lawrence County on Sept. 27, the defense has given up just eight points a game in the last four contests. Much of that improvement correlates with the solidifying play of linebackers Seth Holbrook, Timmy McComas and Snyder, said Maynard.
Also playing a key role is a healthy Isaac Wallace, a freshman defensive lineman who missed the Lawrence County game.
Maynard notices a difference this year compared to his other groups at this juncture of the season.
“More confidence,” he said. “They’re believing in themselves.”
Maynard points to the pair of losses as being two of the most beneficial moments in 2013.
“We’re four points away from being 10-0, but I believe those two losses helped us more than any of these victories did,” Maynard said.
Paintsville (7-3) enjoyed its best regular season since 2005 under the direction of first-year coach Joe Chirico.
The Tigers use a balanced offensive approach, as they’ve eaten up 1,857 yards on the ground and 1,103 through the air.
Mark Fannin completed 96 of 160 attempts this season, throwing for 1,068 yards, 14 TDs and four interceptions.
Sophomore running back Kent Phelps put together some monster efforts in his trek to a 1,000-yard campaign — he finished with 1,079 rushing yards and 11 scores.
Gabe Burchell, with a team-leading 80 tackles, Lane Daniels and Prater Helton have helped spearhead a defense that kept opponents in single digits four times.
South Floyd (3-7) will rely on Blake Dye (1,075 rushing yards, 16 TDs) and Hunter Johnson (933 passing yards, 11 TDs).
Paintsville is on the road because it placed third in District 7, while South Floyd was second in District 8.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.