As you enjoy another plate of leftovers, there is still plenty to be thankful for on the gridiron.

Pigskin will accompany your latest helping of pumpkin pie tonight and should give extra spice to your holiday weekend.

Three games left on the docket. Three area teams that are one step away from a date at Kroger Field in the state championship game.

East Carter and Johnson Central will get one last experience on their home turf. Raceland wants to embrace the same experience it did against Pikeville in 2017 and get back to the state title game for a second time.

We end Year 3 of the RPI, and like all new things, it needs tweaking after teams experienced its early stages. Several teams prospered and others did not. Whatever the KHSAA decides moving forward, the playing field needs to be even. Unlike my Thanksgiving meal, that notion should be easy to digest.

I’m using another three letters to assist the selections this week. R.E.M. was an influential rock band that produced 15 studio albums before splitting up in 2011.

It appears that my streak of pick’em wins will end this season, but I will never say “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”

The game must go on…

Playoffs Week 4 Picks

East Carter 26, Belfry 20. The Raiders have averaged 35.5 points a game since the Battle for the Barrel, and after dismantling the Mason County defense last week, expect another positive effort again. The Pirates have won seven state titles will be no stranger to the big stage when they arrive at Steve Womack Field. East Carter has grown accustomed to the state spotlight in a hurry. Paducah Tilghman’s win last week over No. 1 seed Christian Academy of Louisville granted the Raiders another appearance in front of the home crowd. They shine brighter each week and expect to see more “Shiny Happy People” in Grayson tonight.

Johnson Central 31, Franklin County 17. The Flyers shocked the Class 4A world when they went to Paintsville and brought home a victory in the state semifinals last season. “Everybody Hurts” sometimes, but the Golden Eagles have not forgotten that night. They get their chance at redemption tonight on Jim Matney Field after a lackluster offensive performance in that game in 2020. Johnson Central quarterback Grant Rice has multiple options in the running game. They all can chew up yardage at a rapid pace behind an impressive offensive line, including a mountain of a man in Grant Bingham. Frankly speaking, the Franklin County defense has to get off the field for the Flyers to hang around in this game.

Pikeville 27, Raceland 21. I imagine the Panthers still remember Luke Lemaster’s famed kick to deny Pikeville a trip to the state title game four years ago. The two teams have met in this round before. It will be the third such meeting in the last five years. Raceland and Pikeville look for small-school supremacy tonight at W.C. Hambley Athletic Complex. The Rams defense will face a huge challenge tonight against offensive adversaries Blake Birchfield and quarterback Isaac McNamee. Birchfield has 2,137 rushing yards. The Panthers have only allowed one sack all year and getting to their experienced quarterback could present an obstacle for the Rams defense and the physical “Orange Crush” up front. Raceland will stay close with experience players and a balanced offense, but the Panthers will eventually pull ahead to stay.

Set Your Clocks

After your Friday night football fix, check out the sports talk show “Eleventh Hour” live on The Daily Independent’s Facebook page at about 11 p.m., depending on our travel time. Zack Klemme will be driving back from Johnson Central, so — barring a running clock in Paintsville and a rapid voyage up U.S. 23 for Klemme — Matt Jones and I will break down the night’s action and answer questions about your favorite area teams. Post your queries to the comments section during the show.

Listen Up!

Tonight’s radio coverage:

Belfry at East Carter: WUGO 99.7 FM

Franklin County at Johnson Central: WSIP 98.9 FM

Raceland at Pikeville: koolhits1057.com

Reach MATTHEW SPARKS at msparks@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654. Follow @SparksWillFly35 on Twitter.

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