Louisville Central remains the team to beat in the Class 3A postseason. The Yellow Jackets have won the last three state championships and five of the last six. The last two seasons Bell County has saw their season end at the hands of Central in the regional championship game. They meet again Friday in Louisville with a spot in this year’s regional title game on the line.
“You can’t beat anybody if you don’t get to play them and what an opportunity we have,” Bobcat coach Wayne Mills said. “That’s what I’m excited about. That’s why you love coaching, that’s why you love playing, just these challenges that you get to face. We’re going to take our team to Louisville, go to the big city and take on a heck of a football team.”
Like Bell County (7-4), Central (8-3) lost a lot from last year and went through some early season struggles. Of course the Jackets’ only losses were to 6A powers St. Xavier, DuPont Manual and Doss.
Central has switched their base offense to a spread and they’ve used three different quarterbacks this season. Senior Sydney Tedford has completed 28 of 87 passes for 421 yards and five touchdowns with seven interceptions. Freshman James Simpson has gone 23-of-44 passing for 389 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions.
The Jackets leading rusher is senior Phillip Francis with 883 yards and ten touchdowns on 112 carries. Junior Davon Adams has added another 254 yards and two touchdowns. Seniors Paul White (22 catches), Marcel Malone (6 touchdowns) and Marcus Manion (320 yards) are the leading receivers.
“They’ve changed a little bit this year and they’re running more of a spread attack, what we call a two-by-two with one back. They’ll still get into some I and run some toss sweep to try to get their athletes out on the edge,” Mills said. “That’s something I feel like we’ll see, they’ll try to out-athlete us and get to edges and then throw that thing up and try to make plays.”
He added that the Bobcats’ schedule has prepared them well for this game. They faced similarly athletic teams in South Pittsburg, Tenn., and Middlesboro, and also fared well against Class 3A’s rushing leader in last week’s win over Elizabethtown.
Defense has been the calling card for Bell County and that side of the ball has improved a lot over the second half of the season.
“The kids that we had to put in for the kids that were injured, I just feel like they’ve gotten better. They’ve played seven or eight games now,” Mills said. “(Sophomore linebacker) Kyle Lee has improved tremendously and so has our defensive line. We couldn’t stop the run early, those guys are getting off blocks now. Devon Miller, Josh Baker, Shane Lawson, Josh Miracle all of those have got better up front and they’ve been able to contain the run. It’s been a total team effort.”
Junior linebacker Justin Green leads the Bobcats with 103 total tackles on the year and the return of Austin Caldwell helps both the defense and the offense where he leads the team with 703 yards on 99 carries with eight touchdowns. Sophomore Chase Woolum has run for 456 yards and 15 touchdowns on 99 carries.
Bell’s offense faces a stiff challenge against Central. Senior linebacker Donald Styles is one of the state’s best and has recorded 94 tackles on the season. Senior Derquione Mobley has 90 tackles and Rayshawn Beason has 49 with two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Junior William Pope is another hard guy to block on the defensive line.
“They’re outstanding defensively. They’ve got some players that are going to go on and play college football on that side of the ball. But our kids aren’t going to be intimidated,” Mills said. “We went there two years ago so we’ve been to that setting and kind of know what to expect. We’ve just got to go and hopefully get a break or two.
You never know, but you’ve got to be there to see what can happen. If it’s played on paper we don’t have a chance, but it’s not played on paper. Hopefully we can keep it close and then catch a break, maybe score on defense like we did last week.”
Mills said his team has a good mindset going into the game and will be looking to pull off the upset.
“They’ve been the best team in 3A, not just the last three years that they’ve won it but five out of the last six. We’ve really been looking forward to the opportunity to play them again. Somebody is going to beat them, and we hope it can be us. We’re preparing like it can be and our kids have a lot of confidence right now.”
Friday’s game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. in Louisville.