Our predictions for Ky. football semifinals

Posted at 8:58 AM, Nov 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-26 08:58:28-05

Northern Kentucky still has four teams alive in the state football semifinals.

Beechwood, Newport Central Catholic, Highlands and Simon Kenton all attempt to punch their tickets to their respective state title games on Friday.

Here is a look at those matchups:

Lexington Lafayette (11-2) at Simon Kenton (13-0), 7 p.m. – Lafayette has won its playoff games by six (in overtime), seven and six points and eked out a one-point lead in its regular-season finale. The Generals can match Simon Kenton on the scoreboard but not on defense, allowing more than twice as many points as the Pioneers. Dual threat QB Walker Wood is around 2,000 passing yards and well in four figures rushing, and Mason Alstatt is around the same on the ground. Quenton Brown is near the 1,000-yard mark in receiving. Speaking of close wins, Simon Kenton escaped with a one-point victory over Cooper last week in the team’s first one-possession win of the year. The Jaguars were able to shut down Cameron Racke’s passing attack, but Racke and Dillon Powell both eclipsed 150 rushing yards. Simon Kenton has rushed for nearly 280 yards per game and is fourth in points allowed in Class 6A and sixth in scoring. Powell has rushed for 1,697 yards and 23 TDs, and Racke is nearing 900 ground yards and has thrown for 1,695. The Pioneers should advance to the championship game.

Pulaski County (12-1) at Highlands (8-5), 3 p.m. – And no, that start time is not a typo. Pulaski County is the top-scoring team in Class 5A with 622 points or 47.9 per game. The Maroons got past North Laurel, 28-24, last week despite being outgained and allowing over 300 rushing yards. QB Riley Hall is a force, with 165 of 232 passing for 2,645 yards, 34 touchdowns and just two picks. Jake Johnson is his primary target with 77 catches for 1,344 yards and 22 TDs. Pulaski County has four rushers with over 200 ground yards, led by Jaylon Conwell with 777. The Maroons have gained over 5,000 yards this season, with nearly 60 percent coming in the air. Highlands continues to see a surge in offense, averaging 48.7 points in its three postseason games after scoring 25.6 per game in the regular season. Nick Kendall rushed for 222 yards and three scores last week and QB Austin Hergott was 11-for-18 for 168 yards and two touchdowns. For the season, Kendall has gained 1,339 yards and scored 19 times on 222 attempts. Despite the rejuvenated offense and tougher schedule, Pulaski County looks like the favorite here.

Danville (12-1) vs. Newport Central Catholic (8-5) at Newport, 7 p.m. – Danville leads all Class 2A teams in points (549) and is second only to DeSales in points allowed (128). The Admirals have won 10 straight since a Week 2 loss to county rival Boyle County. Danville has gained well over half of its yards in the air, with QB Zach Dampier completing just under two-thirds of his attempts for 2,289 yards and 30 TDs. Dmauraie VanCleave is his favorite receiver, catching 57 passes for 821 yards and 12 scores. Danville is holding opponents to 54 ground yards per game. And that is major key to this game for NewCath: Establishing the run against a team that doesn’t allow opponents to establish the run. Jacob Smith is up to 1,438 ground yards and 15 touchdowns, and his success running the ball is imperative to his team’s chance of winning. Danville is two-dimensional on offense (Stephen Ray is a 1,000-yard rusher) and the Thoroughbreds are not as strong of a passing team, and the Admirals have a better defensive resume as well, so the advantage goes to Danville in this one.

Beechwood (12-1) at Russellville (11-2), 7 p.m. – Beechwood’s nemesis the past few years – Mayfield – moved up to Class 2A, so the Tigers will face a new opponent in this round and are hoping that bodes better for them. Beechwood is on the road for the second straight week after topping Louisville Holy Cross, 21-9, last week. Receiver Brett Slusher is now over 1,000 yards receiving (1,052) on 51 catches and 19 touchdowns, averaging 20 yards per catch. QB Kyle Fieger is 127 of 182 (69.8 percent) for 2,456 yards, 38 scores and just three picks. Ethan Stringer has rushed for 1,553 yards and 21 touchdowns. The Tigers have not allowed more than 14 points in any of their last seven games. While Beechwood is No. 2 in points scored in Class A (618), Russellville is third with 594, including 146 in the playoffs. The Panthers have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Joshua Bigbee with a team-best 1,335 and M.J. Jones with 1,188. They have combined for 32 TDs. Russellville has thrown the ball only 49 times all year, but QB Jaylyn Murray has 12 touchdown passes on 44 attempts and averages 27 yards per completion. The threat of the occasional big play from the Panthers’ passing game may prevent Beechwood from stacking the box. Even though the game is at Russellville and the Tigers have faltered in the round in recent years, Beechwood should be considered the favorite.