The week one opponent was hanging up a state championship banner at the end of last season. Next up? A veteran Raceland team with high expectations and extra incentive coming to Putnam Stadium.
Nobody said Tony Love’s job was going to be easy.
Ashland’s new head football coach took over one of the program’s least experienced squads. While he knows growing pains are inevitable, Love also wants to see steady improvement and results.
The Tomcats outgained Newport Central Catholic by a slight margin last week, but lost 37-26 in northern Kentucky.
“It’s kind of mixed,” Love said in assessing the performance. “I told the kids we are not really looking for moral victories, but we did some things well. First, we played against a pretty good team that’s in the hunt for state championships. We have a lot of inexperienced guys, but we need to learn from the mistakes we made.”
Ashland’s difficult non-district schedule offers no breaks. Raceland (1-0) rolls into Putnam Stadium tonight looking to put the brakes on a four-year drought in the series. During that span, the Rams have been outscored by an average of 34.2 points.
“The last one we won was 2008,” said Raceland coach T.J. Maynard, who expects another tough battle. “Ashland is Ashland. They are going to have good teams every year. There’s a lot of tradition. We like to play them up there because it prepares us for the season.”
This week in particular, Rams coaches have stressed holding onto the football. Last year, Ashland won 42-19 by coming up with six Raceland turnovers, including four in the third quarter to break open a tight game.
“You just can’t turn the ball over that many times against anybody, especially a quality opponent like Ashland,” Maynard said. “Some of those were self-inflicted, but you’ve got to give Ashland credit, too. They made plays.”
Raceland returned most of its top playmakers this season. Senior quarterback Adam Elkins had 277 yards, rushing and passing, in the opener as the Rams beat East Carter 40-14.
Elkins completed 12 of 18 passes for 179 yards and added 98 yards on a dozen carries.
“Adam had a great preseason and great start to the season,” Maynard said. “As a coach, you really like to see that progression. I really think he made a big jump from last year to this year. There’s the experience factor. He has a better feel for the offense, and his arm strength has gotten better.”
Raceland’s head coach talked in the preseason about the possibility of three players taking snaps for the Rams.
“Adam accepted that challenge to be the clear-cut guy,” Maynard said.
Senior running back Daylin Beach carried for 85 yards in the first game, including a 21-yard score. Junior standout Connor Messer caught five passes for 130 yards and scored two TDs — a 67-yard reception and 47-yard interception return. Wideout Rodney Vance added four catches for 43 yards.
“Raceland has real good balance,” Love said. “Elkins, Beach and their receivers complement that big offensive line. I saw them play last weekend and they seemed to have more ball security.”
Defensively, the Rams dominated up front and limited East Carter to 35 total yards in the first half.
“We got a lot of people to the ball,” Maynard said. “Obviously, that’s something we have to do this week against (Quinton) Baker and the rest of Ashland’s guys.”
Maynard and Quinton’s father, rushing star Al Baker, played together at the University of Kentucky.
“Al was like a bulldozer with jet speed,” Maynard recalled. “I remember how big his thighs were. He was always a great guy to be around. The thing about Quinton, when he makes a cut, after the first step he’s back to full speed.”
As a freshman, Baker ran for 84 yards and a touchdown against Raceland in his second varsity game.
Last week, Baker exploded for a career-high 236 yards on 13 carries against NCC. He broke loose for scoring runs of 80 and 46 yards. James Queen also scored two TDs for the Tomcats, while fullback Josh Vaughn picked up 60 yards on the ground.
“I thought our offense played unselfishly,” said Love, pointing to one of Baker’s breakaways as an example. “Everybody saw Quinton making an electrifying play. What they probably didn’t see, there were four guys that tackled Vaughn because he did a great job carrying out his fake.”
On the defensive side, however, missed tackles proved costly for Ashland.
“We let the quarterback (Mac Franzen) get loose on us quite a bit,” Love said. “Overall, we counted 24 missed tackles. That’s been a big point of emphasis in practice.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.