Surveyed coaches were definitive in their assessment of the success of the KHSAA's ratings percentage index (RPI) in guiding the playoff process toward the championship games.
"It definitely has (produced the best matchup)," said Jim Matney, who will coach Johnson Central against Boyle County in the Class 4A final on Saturday. "I don't think there's any doubt about it."
"No question. I think it did the job there," Rebels coach Chuck Smith said. "I think the two best teams are in it."
That applied to more than just coaches directly involved.
Paintsville meets Pikeville in the Class A title game on Friday afternoon. Michael Salmons coached Raceland against both the Tigers and the Panthers this season.
"I think the one thing that RPI did do is, I think it got the two best teams, and you could maybe say that for all the other classes," Salmons said. "I don't study the other classes as well, but it seems like to me they got the best teams there. So that was the goal, and it worked out."
It would've been virtually impossible for Paintsville and Pikeville to meet in the state final under any other recent format, which contained more geographical components. The same goes for the Belfry-Bell County matchup in the Class 3A title game on Friday night.
"You get two teams from eastern Kentucky (meeting in the state final); I think that's one thing the RPI's gonna allow to happen, if that's where the best teams really reside," Salmons said. "You got two teams in Johnson County that are a mile apart; you got two teams in Pike County 25, 30 miles apart."
Paintsville and Johnson Central are two of five teams from eastern Kentucky in the state final. Pikeville, Belfry and Bell County join them to comprise a strong field at Kroger Field. Some would consider Somerset, a Class 2A finalist, part of that region, too.
"I think (eastern Kentucky) is stronger, comparison statewide, than it's ever been in its history," Matney said. "Not that there's not been some good teams come out of eastern Kentucky, there have, but I think that the hard-working, the tough mentality, I think it's still prevalent probably in the mountains. ... Eastern Kentucky, never in its history have we ever had this many teams that could go down (and compete) statewide, I don't think."
Lawrence County's schedule included the Tigers, the Panthers and the Pirates.
"It just kinda goes to show you the quality of football here in eastern Kentucky is probably what I would consider an all-time high," Bulldogs coach Alan Short said, "when you look at the level of competition that these guys bring week in and week out. Pretty impressive."
A Marsh Connection
Vic Marsh coached Ashland the last time it made it to the state final, a 1990 Tomcats crowning victory. His family will participate again in that round on Saturday night.
Star Frederick Douglass offensive tackle Walker Parks is the nephew of Vic and Karen Marsh, Karen reported. He is the son of former Ashlander Beth Dunnigan Parks and David Parks, who was a University of Kenucky offensive lineman.
The Broncos meet Covington Catholic for the title. After that, Parks, who is committed to play at Clemson, is slated to participate in the Under Armour All-American Game in Orlando on Jan. 2.
McPeeks Back in Business
That's only one of a handful of Frederick Douglass connections to northeastern Kentucky.
The Broncos, who remarkably reached the state final in their third season as a program, have four coaches from the area.
Nathan McPeek is Frederick Douglass's offensive coordinator. Garry McPeek, his uncle, coaches running backs, and Cody -- Garry's son and Nathan's cousin -- is the freshman offensive line coach. Joel Wardle, a 2013 Fairview graduate, is also a Broncos freshman assistant coach.
Nathan McPeek coached Fairview on its run to the 2012 Class A title game. Wardle was a senior and Cody McPeek a junior on that team, which Nathan thinks will aid the quartet in helping guide Frederick Douglass in its maiden voyage to the final.
"For me, it's awesome to be with family and work with them, day in and day out," Nathan McPeek said. "Joel played for me at Fairview and so did Cody, and to be able to do this with them, with those guys going into this profession, is outstanding."
McPeek, a Russell graduate, has kept an eye on his home region and taken joy in seeing so many eastern Kentucky teams reach Kroger Field.
"I got several friends at some of those schools, I know a lot of the coaches at those schools," McPeek said, "and it's always good to see eastern Kentucky do well. And I know those coaches work extremely hard and got really good players."
One more connection: Broncos senior quarterback Josh McClurg was a wide receiver at Paintsville last season, catching seven touchdown passes. He moved back under center -- he was an all-purpose player at Lexington Christian, a role that included taking some snaps at QB, as a sophomore -- this fall for Frederick Douglass and has passed for 1,393 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Salmons, Midland on fishing trip
Under Luke Salmons, Cabell Midland has turned into a consistently stout program, but until now has only broken through to the Class AAA state final once -- in 2012.
That made the Knights' 31-0 semifinal victory over rival Spring Valley on Friday night to earn a trip to Wheeling for the championship game sweeter, said the former Lawrence County coach.
"It's good. It's exciting," said Salmons, who led the Bulldogs from 2008-10. "It's hard to get there. We've had a lot of good teams, and always been good, but it's just hard to get there. You got a lot of good football around here and it's tough.
"They'll never forget just the opportunity to go there, and they'll be remembered for that, and hopefully they'll be remembered for winning one."
The Knights' wide margin of the victory over the Timberwolves, who had been to three straight state finals, stood out, though it was a 3-0 game at halftime.
"It started up front," Salmons said. "We controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. ... (Even leading just 3-0) I felt like we were in control of the game. The kids made some plays, defense did a great job and offense executed well, and it just went our way."
Cabell Midland (14-0) next meets Martinsburg, the three-time defending state champion -- each at Spring Valley's expense.
Tigers marching out
Ironton is scheduled to depart this morning for Saturday's Division V state championship game in Canton, Ohio. Before that, the Fighting Tigers have festivities planned.
Ironton will have an assembly in the high school auditorium at 9 a.m., said student services director Mark LaFon, and depart at 9:45 along Seventh Street for Ironton Elementary/Middle School, where a walkthrough/send-off is planned for 10 a.m.
The team is slated to leave for Canton at 11 a.m. The Fighting Tigers meet Kirtland on Saturday at 8 p.m.
Speaking of Marsh ...
Mark Maynard, curator of the book "Ashland Tomcats Football: A Total History," has a book signing scheduled with former Ashland coaches Vic Marsh, Herb Conley and Leon Hart.
It's Saturday from noon-2 p.m. at Trophy House at 2003 Carter Avenue in Ashland.
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