By DOUG EADS, CJ Correspondent
For the Pulaski County Maroons, things get down to brass tacks beginning tonight.
Coming off their bye week last Friday, the Maroons ‘real season’ begins tonight, as Pulaski County welcomes the Whitley County Colonels to PC Field for the opening round of the Class 5 A playoffs.
As is the case with several first round matchups every year once the playoffs begin, the Colonels and Maroons are two teams that have marched in different directions since the opening week of the 2013 season.
Whitley County limps into post season play with an anemic, 1-9 record — with that lone win coming over Letcher County Central two weeks ago by a 44-20 margin.
While the Maroons were off last week, Whitley County was ending its regular season by getting pasted at Boyle County by a final tally of 46-14 in a game that wasn’t really that close.
Pulaski County meanwhile — only one of two teams in Class 5 A with a perfect regular season mark at 10-0 — the other being number-ranked Bowling Green at 9-0 — comes into tonight’s game as a huge favorite and for a very good reason.
With sophomore quarterback Riley Hall leading the way, the Maroons are a perfect 10-0 on the season, and are averaging 44.2 points per contest.
Compare that Whitley County — a team that is giving up 41.9 points per contest this season — and it’s little wonder why the Maroons are a considerable favorite on their home field tonight.
That being said, head coach Johnny Hines indicated this week that his team is taking nothing for granted when the ball gets teed up tonight against the Colonels.
It’s do or die — win or go home — and as Hines sees things, any team lining up for post season play is a dangerous opponent due to the high stakes that are involved regardless of a won-loss record.
“When I was coaching at Barren County way back in 1992, we were a number four seed in the playoffs and went to Oldham County who was a one seed and the district champ that year with a 9-1 record, and we pulled off a major upset over them,” pointed out the PC head coach.
“I’ve been there,” added Hines. “We understand that Whitley County is an outstanding football team and have been for a long time — they are a very strong program. You can throw the win-loss records out the door. It’s playoffs now and everybody plays their best football now, or you get beat and go home.”
Pulaski County and Whitley County of course are no strangers to each other.
These two clubs battled it out last season in round two of the playoffs at PC Field, with Hines and the Maroons coming away with a hard-fought, 28-13 victory.
Back in the ‘90’s, the Colonels and Maroons battled it out every season sharing the same district, so there doesn’t figure to be any surprises tonight from either club.
Head coach Jim Black has been at the helm of the Colonel program for eight years, and this will be the fourth time under coach Black that his team and the Maroons under Johnny Hines have crossed each other’s path in the post season.
“I have great respect for coach (Black) and coach Gibbs and their entire staff down there,” stated Hines. “They do a great job with their program.”
“We’ve met three times in the playoffs in recent years, and all three times were in round two — we’ve won two of those meetings and they’ve won one,” continued the Maroon head coach. “It’s been a good rivalry over the years. Whitley County is a very good program, and they have always been very well respected with everything they do. I’m sure they’re going to come up here and play their best game of the season and be real excited about the chance of pulling off a big upset.”
As far as the Maroons go, Pulaski County is one of the top scoring offenses in all of Kentucky, scoring 442 points in 10 games this season.
And it all starts with quarterback Riley Hall.
Hall has had another banner year at the QB position, connecting on 149-229 pass attempts for 2,107 yards, with 23 touchdown passes against only 5 interceptions.
Hall also has rushed for 646 yards and 5 TD’s, while the Maroons also have another couple of running backs that have enjoyed solid seasons.
Junior Caleb Cox leads PC in rushing with 654 yards and 4 touchdowns, while senior Aaron Smith has ran for 529 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Maroons have enjoyed a balanced attack all season long by hurting teams via a strong ground game, or through the air with Hall connecting repeatedly to two talented receivers in George Gregory and Jake Johnson.
Hines for one is hoping PC’s prolific and high-flying offense has five more quality games in it, beginning tonight in the opening round of the playoffs against the Colonels.
“We’ve got two wide receivers in George Gregory and Jake Johnson that are just two outstanding young wide receivers,” remarked coach Hines.
“They are very hard to cover defensively, and they exciting thing about both of those guys, that they each make things happen after they catch the ball,” said Hines. “They make great plays after they catch the ball. Also, we’ve been able to run the football with a lot of different guys. Aaron Smith has had a great year running the football, Caleb Cox has had a great year, Jesse Whitaker can come in there and run the football with the best of them, and Zach Whiles gives us a chance of pace. And, our offensive line has been tremendous all year long. You have to tip your hat to our offensive line, because they are really the unsung heroes. And, it all centers around Riley (Hall) that can run the show like he does. He’s already put himself in the category of the Cole Draughn’s, the Zach Eastham’s, and the Chris Muse’s that have come before him.”
Of course tonight’s game is at the friendly confines of PC Field — a venue where the Maroons simply have dominated opponents in recent memory, just like this season where PC is undefeated on its home turf.
“When it comes to around 7:30 p.m., that bad moon rises above our stadium, and that mojo rolls up out of beautiful ‘Maroons Creek’, and it just gives us a little something special that visiting teams just don’t understand,” Hines stated.
Radio play-by-play action from Mike Kerr, Paul Wright and Dwayne Clark on 97.1 FM. Updates from the game, as well as other games will be posted on the Commonwealth Journal’s Facebook page and on the Twitter handle @cjsportseditor.
Kickoff for tonight’s Pulaski County—Whitley County game is set to get underway at 7:30 p.m. from PC Field.