Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 6, 2012

Eagles, Rams look to clear next hurdles for rematch

Kyle Hobstetter
The Independent

ASHLAND — In Fairview football coach Nathan McPeek’s mind, there are no more gimmes in the Class A playoffs.

Fairview hosts Nicholas County while Raceland travels to play Pikeville on Friday, with a possible regional final meeting between the Rams and Eagles looming.

Both teams cruised in blowout wins last week — Fairview beat Phelps 69-0 and Raceland beat Allen Central 60-0, but McPeek knows it will be a fight from here  on out.

“Phelps was 0-9 and they played hard,” McPeek said. “But we had more players and we overmatched them. We handled our business early and got our younger guys some playing time.”

For the fourth time in two seasons, Fairview will go up against Nicholas County. The past three meetings all went to Fairview.

The last game occurred on Oct. 19, when the Eagles defeated the Bluejackets, 36-7, at Nicholas County.

According to McPeek, a lot has changed in the past three weeks for Nicholas County. And a lot has changed since the Eagles survived with just a 28-14 second round playoff win over the Bluejackets a year ago.

“We’re playing a good Nicholas County team that picked up a good win last week (35-28 over South Floyd),” McPeek said. “Last year we ended up winning, but they had good game plan prepared for us. I told our team on Monday that if they have a bad game we’ll be collecting our gear and staying home.”

Leading the way for Nicholas County (7-4) is running back Austin Allison, who has run for more than 1,200 yards this season and has over 20 touchdowns.

Against Fairview (11-0) earlier this season, Allison was held in check for only 63 yards. But that doesn’t mean McPeek has taken his eyes off of the senior running back.

“We did a pretty good job on him earlier in the season, but he did get loose a couple of times,” McPeek said. “He’s really strong and has powerful legs. He’s a really good defensive player too.”

With a win on Friday, Fairview would find itself in a third straight region championship game. With a win next week, McPeek and Fairview would win their first region championship.

But McPeek knows that getting there the past three years has continued to build the Fairview program up.

“The more playoff games we play the more experience we get and the better the program becomes,” McPeek said. “We’ve been up in the region championship game the past two years and if I could go back I would have done things a little differently.

“We have to win and focus on Friday first,” he added.

For Raceland (9-2), the problem might not be looking forward, it may involve looking back.

Last season the Rams’ season ended at Pikeville in a 54-21 loss. Earlier this season Raceland returned the favor with a 54-14 win on Aug. 31 at home.

Raceland coach T.J. Maynard said this time will be different than the previous two meetings.

“I don’t think our guys have forgotten last year,” Maynard said. “This time around will be a different challenge than our first meeting this season. We met them in the third week of the season and they were a young football team. Those guys have improved a bunch since then.”

Maynard credits the evolution of running back Chase Hall, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season, and Pikeville’s dual-quarterback system featuring Austin Charles and Ben Maynard for the Panthers’ improvement.

Changing players around, and switching some players up, have the Panthers on a five-game winning streak.

“Again the No. 1 thing is we have to stop Hall,” Maynard said. “Watching the tape they have guys in different spots and they’re rotating two quarterbacks, it gives them a different dynamic.”

One of the main things Raceland wants to prepare for is Pikeville’s artificial turf field.

And with his players off of school on Tuesday, Maynard bussed his team over to Coal Grove High School to practice on the Hornets’ artificial turf.

“It was a good opportunity for us to try something different and see how the guys handled it and make it more comfortable for Friday,” Maynard said. “I’ve known coach (Dave) Lucas a long time and he and Coal Grove were gracious enough to let us use their facilities.”

Even with the possible rematch of district rivals next Friday, both coaches’ strategies are the same for Friday’s game — stay focused.

“We have to be ready every single Friday from now on,” Maynard said. “If we don’t there is no next week, so we have to keep our focus and our intensity up.”

KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at khobstetter@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2658.