Knox County football fans have a tough decision to make this week as they ponder where to spend their Friday night with both Knox Central and Lynn Camp at home for the first round of the playoffs.
Having both county teams at home at the same time during the post-season is a very rare feat that has only taken place once in the past 30+ seasons. That came in 2007 when Knox Central hosted Rockcastle and Lynn Camp entertained Campbellsville on the same night.
And while everyone is happy to have both local teams playing at home to start post-season play, nobody wants to see a repeat of 2007 as both the Panthers and Wildcats were upset during their opening-round games that year.
This time around certainly will be no easier than it was then with powerhouse John Hardin visiting Knox Central and up-and-coming Phelps traveling to Lynn Camp for what should be two of the best games in this part of the state, and maybe even the entire state.
Knox Central has the toughest task with John Hardin on tap. The Bulldogs enter the game as a three seed with a 5-5 record that is very deceiving.
John Hardin is one of the state’s most successful programs over the last decade, regardless of class. The Bulldogs have advanced to at least the third round of the playoffs each of the last 10 seasons, making it to the state semi-finals seven of those years and to the state championship once.
There was a six-year span during the last decade that the Bulldogs went a combined 77-7 with five undefeated regular-seasons.
The last time John Hardin lost in the first-round of post-season play was 2004 when Louisville Male ended the Bulldogs’ season.
While all of that is in the past, Knox Central Coach Fred Hoskins and his team understands it’s all still relevant and they fully expect it will take their best effort to send the Bulldogs home with a loss.
“John Hardin is extremely athletic,” said Hoskins. “And just like most every week, they are an older football team with 16 seniors. They’ve been very successful as a football program and they are a really experienced football team. They have a new coach and I think they’ve had some growing pains because of that. But they are playing some good football as of late. It will be a good challenge for us.”
Keys to the game for Knox Central will be to establish its running game early, something the Panthers have not been able to do the last couple of weeks, and limit the big-play capability of John Hardin.
A strong turnout from the Panther faithful is another key, according to the Knox Central coach.
“It’s a huge game. John Hardin is probably the best three-seed in the state, especially in 4A,” Hoskins said. “Our kids really feed off the fans so it’s very important that they come out like they have all season long.
Our kids play hard and are exciting, so it’s well wroth the price of admission to come watch them play.”
A nice boost for the Panthers will be the return of some key players from injuries, including quarterback Blevin Campbell and lineman Gunnar Clouse. Hoskins does not foresee anyone not being ready to go come game-time.
“I think everyone will be back for the first time all season,” he said. “We have one or two that are a little banged up, but it’s nothing that will hold them out. It’s going to be a welcome change to have everyone out there playing.”
Lynn Camp also has its work cut out for it with Phelps making the trip to Knox County. The Hornets enter the game with a 5-4 record, the first winning-season for the program since 1998. During that season, Phelps entered the playoffs with a 7-2 mark and traveled to Lynn Camp where the Wildcats dominated in a 48-14 victory.
Lynn Camp will be hoping for a repeat of that season, though Coach Allen Harris and his troops know it will not be easy. Phelps is an up-and-coming program that ended a 28-game losing streak last season after new coach David Jones took over the struggling program.
Jones is a former two-time Kentucky state champion who played at Belfry before a successful four-year career at the University of Kentucky. He then went on to play in the NFL before injuries ended his playing career.
“Phelps is a lot better than they have been in recent years,” Harris said. “They have a new coach who’s been there for two years and he’s brought them a long way in a short time. This is the kind of game that Phelps can steal from you if you’re not prepared. So we’re really trying to make sure to not overlook them and are focusing on what they do and what they do well.”
Lynn Camp enters the game on an extreme hot streak that has seen the Wildcats win six of their last seven games while scoring an average of 44 points per game. Lynn Camp finished the regular season with a 7-3 mark, the best for the program since 2005.
Coach Harris also has the luxury of a healthy roster with his players suffering nothing more than the normal bumps and bruises that comes with playing football.
Both Knox Central and Lynn Camp are scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.