In football parlance, they’re big uglies.
In reality, the backs and coaches at Johnson Central, Paintsville and Ironton have nothing but adoration for their offensive linemen, and it’s well-deserved after those units’ showings on Friday and Saturday.
Golden Eagles center Andrew Clifton, guards Cam Willis and Owen Lemaster, tackles Grant Bingham and Hunter Scott and tight end Zack Russell pushed Madisonville-North Hopkins around to the tune of a startling 519 rushing yards on Friday night.
“I’ve gotta give all the credit to our offensive line,” Johnson Central back Devin Johnson said after running for 278 of those yards, along with two touchdowns and four 2-pointers. “They made holes; I just hit them. That's all I can tell you.”
Paintsville’s line — tackles Dustin McKenzie and John Blackburn, guards Aaron Baker, Matt Davis and Hunter Ousley, and centers Grant Ray and Parker Preece — paved paths through Kentucky Country Day’s defense for Tigers backs to accumulate 489 rushing yards.
“Those big guys, they like to just get in there and eat,” Paintsville coach Joe Chirico said two weeks ago after the Tigers knocked off Raceland, 32-18, in the district final. “And they like to see those guys rushing and playing hard.”
And Ironton’s Noah Davidson, Matt Davis, Lucas White, Riley Boggs, Rylan Cecil, Rocky White, Caden McFann, Ashton Duncan and Dalton Crabtree provided lanes for Fighting Tigers toters to run for 403 yards, as tallied by the Portsmouth Daily Times, against West Jefferson on Saturday night.
“They just bulldozed people, man. I love them,” Ironton back Seth Fosson told The Daily Independent contributor Ben Spicer. “All the runs we get are off of them.”
• Ashland’s season ended in the state quarterfinals, but the Tomcats may have helped one of their fiercest rivals earn a trip to the state final.
Ironton’s Reid Carrico told WIRO-AM in a postgame interview after the Fighting Tigers rocked West Jefferson on Saturday night that a 16-10 overtime loss “across the river” to the Tomcats on Sept. 20 got Ironton’s attention.
“It humbled us,” Carrico said.
It worked: the Fighting Tigers haven’t lost since falling in Putnam Stadium and have only played one game decided by fewer than 24 points during that stretch.
• KHSAA realignment before this season separated Johnson Central from all of its former district mates, but the Golden Eagles hung tight in Class 4A. There they found plenty of other competition for a state title, though, mostly bumped up from Class 3A.
“We felt like Class 4A was kind of a super class this year,” Johnson Central coach Jim Matney said after his team put a running clock on Madisonville-North Hopkins in the state semifinal on Friday night. “Bringing up Boyle, bringing up Louisville Central, bringing up Corbin, we felt like it was a super, super class, and we're very fortunate, very blessed to be here.”
While that statement contained a certain amount of humility, it was reminiscent of a voiceover actor Kiefer Sutherland did for ESPN during the 2014 World Cup, in which he boldly — arrogantly, even? — proclaimed that the group the United States was in was called the Group of Death “because we’re in it.”
The USMNT, of course, hasn’t played well enough to justify such bravado. Johnson Central, however, has earned its way to its fifth consecutive state final, and on those grounds could call Class 4A a “super class” — in large part — because the Golden Eagles are in it.
• This area's two groups of Tigers will each end their longest-ever droughts from the state finals this weekend.
Ironton first went to the Ohio state title game in 1973 — a year after the OHSAA instituted playoffs — and seven more times in the 26 years after that. The Fighting Tigers will go to Canton on Saturday for the first time since 1999, concluding a 19-season absence.
The KHSAA held its first football finals in 1959, and Paintsville reached them in 1978, ’79 and ’85. The Tigers end a 33-year search for that stage on Friday in Lexington.
Look for more preview coverage of Paintsville-Pikeville, Johnson Central-Boyle County and Ironton-Kirtland all week!
Four: Reid Carrico (Ironton), Devin Johnson (Johnson Central), John Walker Phelps (Paintsville).
Carrico carried the ball for 234 yards and three touchdowns, returned an interception 54 yards to set up a score and otherwise generally wreaked havoc on West Jefferson's offense.
Johnson rushed for 278 yards, two touchdowns and four two-point conversions and also recovered a critical Madisonville-North Hopkins fumble in the Golden Eagles' red zone.
Phelps rushed for 238 yards and three touchdowns as Paintsville advanced to its first state final since 1985.
Three: Johnson Central offensive linemen, Paintsville offensive linemen, Ironton offensive linemen, Jake Hyden (Paintsville), Dylan Preston (Johnson Central).
Two: Mason Lawson (Johnson Central), Gage Salyers (Ironton), Zach Thompson (Paintsville).
One: Avery Book (Ironton), Seth Dalton (Johnson Central), Seth Fosson (Ironton), Karsten Poe (Paintsville), Ryley Preece (Johnson Central), Cody Rice (Johnson Central).
Miss it? Here are scores from this weekend’s state semifinals involving local teams: Johnson Central 52, Madisonville-North Hopkins 14; Paintsville 44, Kentucky Country Day 20; Ironton 49, West Jefferson 21.
How many completions did Johnson Central and Paintsville combine for in resounding state semifinal victories on Friday night?
The first to answer correctly via email, tweet or phone call will pick state championship games (and the Big Ten title tilt) with our panel!
Reach ZACK KLEMME at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.