An umpire during the spring, Raceland football coach Michael Salmons deemed a baseball analogy fitting.
“They hit home runs. They don’t hit a lot of singles. They don’t bunt. They hit three-run dongs,” Salmons said. “They’re an American League team, that’s who they are.”
If that’s the case, Pikeville pounded jack after jack in smacking Williamsburg, 57-16, in last week’s regional-final round. The Panthers prompted a running clock less than two minutes into the second quarter.
“Some nights you get into a groove where everything is working,” said Pikeville coach Chris McNamee.
Some weeks you do, too.
Pikeville has won seven in a row while limiting each of its last six opponents to 16 or fewer points.
The Panthers (10-2) will host Raceland (11-2) tonight in a Class A semifinal rematch. The Rams memorably prevailed, 17-14, to propel the program to its first state finals appearance. Luke Lemaster kicked a game-winning 36-yard field goal in Raceland.
Salmons said Pikeville is more dangerous this season because of its bolstered experience, specifically regarding signal-caller Connor Roberts.
“Their quarterback is a year older, and they run incredibly well,” Salmons said. “They play on turf, which gives them another element.
And, the baseball guy emerged from Salmons again.
“We’ve gotta try to prevent home runs,” he said.
Entering its defeat of Williamsburg — from which statistics had not been reported as of Wednesday — Roberts had amassed 2,788 yards of offense (1,740 passing; 1,048 rushing) and 37 total TDs (22 passing; 15 rushing). Zack Roberts (no relation) ranked second on the team with 474 rushing yards and eight scores.
Connor Roberts had hit four different targets between 13 and 31 times. Leading the way were trio Jackson Hensley (31 catches, 647 yards, 13 TDs), Christian Billiter (17 receptions, 506 yards, six TDs) and Kyle Watkins (25 for 475 and four).
Seth Pugh’s gotten in on the act as well, McNamee said.
McNamee said Roberts has been “tremendous.”
“He works extremely hard getting himself better,” said the coach.
McNamee is in the ninth season of his second stint at Pikeville. He’s also spent time as Pike County Central’s head coach and as an assistant at Harrison County. In all, his teams have racked up 150 wins under his tutelage.
Pikeville last advanced to the state championship game in 2015, when it won it all.
McNamee views Raceland as a considerable hurdle. He can’t pinpoint a significant difference in the 2017 and ’18 versions, but he did notice one particular consistency.
“Their defense does a great job,” McNamee said. “Nobody’s scored a lot of points on them. They have great speed over the top. If you break through that first level (of tacklers), they have guys that can track you down.”
Raceland has allowed just 12.6 points a game. It stifled Paintsville in the second half of last Friday’s regional final after the Rams’ 52-yard, fourth-quarter TD throw from Jake Heighton to Judd Adkins. Defense did the rest to stave off the Tigers, 14-7.
Salmons hopes that late burst of momentum carries over into a matchup located about 25 miles farther south along U.S. 23.
“It’s do or die now,” said the fifth-year head coach. “We’ve been phenomenal on defense all year long. If we don’t play well on defense (tonight), I’ll be the most shocked guy in the stadium. Do I think we’re going to shut them out? No, probably not, but at the same time, I feel like our defense will play well enough to give us a chance to win the game.”
Dalton Adkins (ankle) and Nolan Smith (hamstring) will play, said Raceland’s coach.
Perhaps Salmons’ club will blast another homer of its own. After all, Heighton (25 TDs, three INTs) is also a baseball guy.
More to come
Pikeville and Raceland will meet in each of the next two regular seasons, according to McNamee. The Panthers will host the Rams next season. They’ll visit Raceland in 2020.
“When you look at Pikeville and Raceland as far as school systems and towns, we’re similar,” McNamee said. “I think we’re both trying to do things the right way. It’s always a battle in the playoffs, but it’ll be good to have that competition during the season.”
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