Win or Go Home.
Do or Die.
One and Done.
Those are just a few of the sports adages that explain the great significance of this Friday's post-season elimination football match-ups. Playoff games generate a statewide sense of excitement for what lies ahead, because in five more weeks six teams throughout the state will be crowned football state champions on Kentucky's Kroger Filed.
This Friday begins that exciting high school football five-week playoff process. When the stadium lights are turned off after Friday nights' games, half the teams will advance to play another Friday night and the other half will have ended their 2019 football seasons.
Friday night at Maroons' Stadium, one of our local teams will move on and the other team will have ended their football season. Pulaski County High School and Southwestern High School will meet up in the opening round of the Class 5A Playoffs. The two teams met up just two weeks prior with Southwestern coming away with the 15-7 overtime win.
Granted their last meeting had no bearing on their post-season rankings or district seedings, the 2019 Superintendent's Bowl was one of the more exciting match-ups between the two county school programs.
Now in the opening round of the 2019 high school football playoffs, Pulaski County and Southwestern meet up again on somewhat similar paths, yet opposite directions.
Southwestern opened their season with almost half of their starters on the sidelines with injuries, as they struggled through with five losses in their first seven games. Meanwhile, Pulaski County steamrolled through their schedule winning seven of their first eight games.
But towards the end of regular season the roles have been reversed between the two teams.
Southwestern had lost back-to-back district games, and were in danger of not making the payoffs. As Week 9 approached, the Warriors started to get all their injured players back on the field en route to their 38-20 'must' win over South Laurel. Now, the Warriors are as healthy as they have even been all year and are on a wave of three straight wins - which included their overtime win against the Maroons.
Meanwhile, Pulaski County started to pile up some significant injuries - their biggest when sophomore quarterback Drew Polston suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the Southwestern game. Now, the Maroons are coming into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak. Also, senior tight end Grant Oakes will not play Friday night and the Maroons' All-State receiver Jake Sloan is questionable.
Regardless of who is playing or who is not playing, the game is tabbed to be another classic match-up that could very well be decided on the last play of the game.
Southwestern sophomore Tanner Wright, who was just ruled eligible a few weeks ago, has averaged nearly 110 yards rushing per game in their last two contests. Quarterback Blake Burton has established himself as the Warriors' only signal caller. Also, senior Austin Barnes has been playing outstanding on both sides of the ball for the Warriors, and has tallied 19 defensive tackles in Southwestern's last two games.
Between Chase Doan (705 yards), Austin Barnes (493 yards) and Tanner Wright (486 yards), the Warriors have an explosive three-back threat.
Pulaski County junior Kaleb Adams has stepped up as the Maroons' new quarterback and has two games under his belt this season. Junior Tristan Cox has not been used as much at the running back position in the last two games, but for the season Cox averages over six yards per carry and has found the end zone seven times. Sloan has nearly 900 yards in receptions for the season while Polston was behind center.
And while the Maroons' offense may not be at full strength in the late part of the season, their defense is as potent as it has been all year. Led by the program's all-time tackle leader Konner Hargis, the Pulaski County defense has been a big part of may of their close wins this season. Hargis leads the Maroons with 120 tackles, while Cox has 84 takedowns on the year.
Pulaski County and Southwestern will kick off at 7:30 p.m., on Friday, Nov. 8 at Maroons Stadium. Meanwhile just over a mile down the road, Somerset will be hosting Danville in their Class 2A playoff match-up.
Danville, who comes into the playoffs with a 4-6 record, must content with a powerful Somerset team. The Briar Jumper had little problems of defeating the Admirals in their regular-season match-up with a 40-21 win. Somerset held the Admirals to only 51 passing years in that game.
Other than the season-ending loss of Alex Miller, the Jumpers are relatively healthy and firing on all cylinders. The Briar Jumpers only loss was a 35-34 setback at Lexington Christian. Junior quarterback Kaiya Sheron has passed for 2,182 yards and thrown 18 TD pass, while also rushing for 625 yards on the year. Junior Kade Grundy has 904 yards in receptions with nine touchdowns. Also, Grundy has a rushing touchdown, a kick-off return touchdown and a defensive pick-six TD.
Senior Jase Bruner, who has already been offered a preferred walk-on at the University of Kentucky, rushed for 91 yards in the Briar Jumpers' win over Corbin last week. Bruner is also the Jumpers leading tackler with 76 on the year.
Somerset can never look past any opponent, especially the Danville Admirals in the playoffs, but the thought of a rematch with Lexington Christian has to be on the back of their minds heading into the Class 2A playoffs.
Somerset and Danville will kick at off at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 8, at William Clark Field.
STEVE CORNELIUS is the CJ Sports Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @CJSportseditor.