Two teams representing Northern Kentucky in the state football semifinals Friday night took much different routes to get there.
Holy Cross fell on hard times after winning the Class 2A title in 2011. The Indians suffered through a pair of 1-10 seasons and hadn't had a winning season until this year.
Beechwood is back in the semifinal round for the third straight year and is looking for its second consecutive Class A title game berth and first state championship since 2008.
Holy Cross (10-3) at Danville (11-2), 7:30 p.m. – While we tend to see a blowouts in the early rounds of the KHSAA tournament, these teams have had to eke out close wins to advance. Holy Cross escaped with a three-point win over Walton-Verona in the second round and edged Newport Central Catholic, 26-21 last week. Danville beat Lexington Christian by just six in the quarterfinal round. While the Indians like to run, they are effective enough in the passing game to keep opponents honest. Derrick Barnes is having a monster senior season with 1,477 ground yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging 11 yards per carry, and Xavier Abernathy has gained 974 rushing yards and scored 16 times. The pair combined for 283 yards vs. NewCath last week. A rarity for a Class 2A team, Danville throws the ball 51 percent of the time, with QB Zack Dampier going for 3,151 yards and 38 touchdowns. He has completed 70.1 percent of his passes. Holy Cross will have to defend three key receivers. Dmauriae VanCleave leads the team with 63 catches for 972 yards, Ellison Stanfield averages nearly 18 yards per catch and has 48 receptions for 856 yards, and David Walker has 13 touchdown catches. VanCleave also has six return touchdowns. Donlevy Harris is the focal point of the Danville running game with 1,214 ground yards – three-quarters of the team’s total rushing total.
Russellville (12-1) at Beechwood (12-1), 7:30 p.m. – Two of the last three Class A teams with one loss or fewer hook up in Fort Mitchell. Beechwood has not played in a close game since Sept. 23 when it beat Holy Cross 40-33 to start its current nine-game winning streak. The Tigers have outscored their opponents, 439-94 during that streak. RBs Aiden Justice and James Davis both eclipsed the 100-yard mark last week and have been the main offensive weapons for Beechwood this postseason. Justice leads the team with 1,011 ground yards and 16 touchdowns, and Davis is second in both categories with 784 yards rushing and 12 TDs. The Tigers have cut down on their passing in recent weeks largely because they’ve had huge leads. Only one Class A team has more points this season than Beechwood, and that’s Russellville. Not only do the Panthers lead the entire class with 611 points, they are first in points allowed with 142. Russellville has thrown the ball only 65 times all season, but 16 of those attempts have resulted in touchdowns. M.J. Jones has caught 15 passes for 270 yards and nine TDs – a 60 percent touchdown rate. The Panthers’ top two running back both have insane yards-per-carry rates: Johnny Drumgole has rushed 67 times for 1,002 yards (15.0 average) and Jaylyn McMurray has 54 carries for 849 yards (15.7 average). Opponents have rushed for just 1,041 yards, or 80.1 per game, which is an amazing rate for a small-school team that plays a lot of run-oriented offenses. Beechwood may break out the passing game, since the Panthers have allowed an average of 96 yards through the air.