By DOUG EADS, CJ Correspondent
The stakes have never been higher.
The challenge has never been greater.
The lights have never been brighter.
The stage has never been more grand.
That in a nutshell describes the state of the Pulaski County Maroon football heading into this evening.
You see Sunday at Houchens/LT Smith Stadium on the campus of Western Kentucky University, Johnny Hines and crew will take on highly-touted and seemingly invincible Bowling Green for the Class 5 A state championship game.
Yes, this one’s for all the marbles, and Pulaski County will come into this game as a prohibitive underdog and for good reason.
The Purples — the two-time defending Class 5 A state champion — will bring a perfect, 13-0 record into tonight’s contest, along with a modest, 43-game winning streak.
In fact, the last time Bowling Green walked off the football field as a loser has been over three years ago.
Way back on November 12, 2010 in the second round of the Class 5 A playoffs, the Purples fell to Christian County by a 14-10 score.
Since then, no one has stood a chance as Kevin Wallace’s club has been a Class 5 A juggernaut and has dump-trucked about any team that has stood in the way.
In 2011, the Purples went 15-0 on their way to a state title that culminated in a 55-3 beatdown over Pulaski County’s opponent last week — Anderson County.
Last season, Bowling Green again went 15-0 on its way to a state championship, knocking off Cooper in the finals by a 34-20 margin.
Sunday, the Purples will bring a 13-0 mark into the state title game to face an upstart Pulaski County program that is 14-0 on the year and is making its first ever appearance in a state championship game.
The Purples will have a tremendous edge in experience, in both experience in the title game as well as on the roster.
Bowling Green will dress just over 90 players, with 28 seniors on the roster.
For about a dozen of those seniors, tonight will mark the final game of the prep careers, before they venture off into the world of Division I football next season.
Yes that’s right. The Purples have about a dozen kids that are considered D-1 prospects.
So, one can get the sense right away about the challenge standing before the Maroons this evening on the big stage.
This game is the proverbial David verses Goliath matchup, but Hines is saying the same thing this week that he’s been saying all the way in the early ‘Dog Days’ of August — he really likes his football team.
“It’s a big mis-match when you look at all that kind of stuff, but we’re awfully proud of our football team and what it has been able to accomplish this year,” pointed out the Pulaski County head coach.
“They’ve earned this opportunity and we’re going to make the best out of it,” continued Hines. “We’re going to go over there and play our game and do the best that we can. I can tell you this — we’re very proud to have the opportunity.”
If you want to see pure athleticism and football talent, then tonight’s game is the one you want to see.
Pulaski County’s Riley Hall has been almost flawless all season long, completing 204-319 pass attempts for 2,760 yards and 34 touchdowns.
His counterpart in tonight’s game — Bowling Green quarterback Devin Hayes — has even better numbers.
Hayes — in one game less than Hall — has completed 188-264 passes for 3,101 yards and 41 touchdowns.
His main man on the outside is speedster Nacarius Fant — a kid that is literally as fast as the wind.
Fant has 78 receptions on the year for 1,599 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Oh yeah, and by the way the Purples have running back Blue Tisdale who has rushed for 963 yards and 22 touchdowns for the season.
Those three are the main guys, but there’s a ton of talent on a team that has won those 43 games in a row, and will be looking tonight to finish a season undefeated for the third year in a row and a state championship.
Only one team stands in the way, and that team is an upstart and very young Pulaski County Maroon football team that no one ever expected way back in August to be here, but yet here they are.
“You know, we never had a long range plan about how we were going to accomplish this or that at a certain time,” said Hines.
“It’s really hard to look down the road and think that we’re going to be 14-0 next year, or something like that,” added the PC coach. “Instead, we try to focus on becoming as good as we can potentially be and we just take things one game at a time. We do the best that we can to win that game, and that will always be our approach.”
So coach Hines, what kind of ‘approach’ do you take tonight in the biggest game in your school’s history against a team that not many folks give you much of a chance of competing with, let alone winning?
“Bowling Green is a very good football team, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a high school football team that’s better than the Purples, outside of Florida when I was coaching there back in the good old days,” Hines pointed out.
“They’ve got tremendous talent, they’re well coached, and they have all the things that a great team should have,” remarked the Pulaski County coach. “It makes for long odds for sure on our side of the ledger. But, there have been times that we’ve felt like our team was beaten, and these guys just find ways to win. You can ever count our bunch out. You can’t ever count a Riley Hall out. You can’t ever count out a Jake Johnson or a George Gregory, or a Jacob Denney or an Aaron Smith, Austin Cornett, Will Mobley and all those guys. They all think they’re supposed to win every game. That’s the way they approach it, that’s the way they play, and that kind of confidence bleeds over to all the other players.”
Win or lose tonight in Bowling Green, 2013 will go down and will always be remembered as the most successful football season — up to this point — in the history of Pulaski County football.
Hines says the ‘13 Maroons have been a very special and fun team to coach, and that may very well be what he reminds his club tonight before it comes out of the tunnel for the game of a lifetime.
“This is what makes coaching fun for me, and that’s to see young players grow up and become young men,” Hines remarked.
“To see a team come together and accomplish great things that maybe people didn’t think they could accomplish — that’s the fun part about coaching,” Hines added. “This has been a great, fun ride in coaching these guys this year and what they’ve been able to accomplish in the face of adversity, and to face injuries and some people we lost along the way. This team is very resilient and they’re a treat to coach.”
Radio play-by-play action will be from Paul Wright, Mike Kerr and Dwayne Clark on 93.9 FM. Also, the game will streamed live at www.khsaa.org. Updates from the game will be posted on the Commonwealth Journal’s Facebook page and on the Twitter handle @cjsportseditor.
Kickoff for Sunday’s Class 5A State Championship football game will get underway from Western Kentucky University at 3 p.m. EST.