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Everyone knows the magnitude of the challenge facing Anderson County on the football field Friday night.
Just look at the Associated Press Class 5A rankings and you don't have to go far until you see John Hardin listed. The Bulldogs are sitting atop that poll.
Look in the state record book for the 2009 state championship game. There they are again, even though the Bulldogs lost to Highlands in that one. It is the only loss John Hardin has experienced in the last two years.
Check out the Rating the State rankings in the Lexington Herald-Leader. They have John Hardin ranked second in Class 5A, behind once-beaten Highlands.
Anderson County? The lowest ranked 5A team remaining in the Elite Eight.
Litkenhous Ratings in the Courier-Journal? John Hardin is only ranked fifth there. But that venerable rating service has the Bulldogs listed as a 23-point favorite in Friday's regional championship game.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Warford Stadium.
Is that 23 significant? It matches the number of years since the Bearcats have been in a regional final. Danville rolled past Anderson on the way to the 1987 state championship.
Ask Anderson coach Mark Peach if this is the best team he has coached against since coming to Anderson in 2005 and he gives an quick, “Yes.” Pretty heady stuff, considering the Bearcats played eventual state champ Lexington Catholic and Justin Burke in Peach's first season.
“They are a complete football team,” Peach says. “They are equally as good in all phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. Certainly, (Landon) Savoy and (Jeremy) Harness are great running backs and have tremendous speed.
Savoy, a senior, has run for 1,283 yards this year while Harness, a year younger, has run for 1,345. A year ago, Savoy ran for more than 1,200 yards as well.
Through 12 games this year, the unbeaten Bulldogs have averaged almost 44 points a game while giving up about 10.
“They play solid defense as well led by defensive tackle (Jeff) Richard and a linebacker (Damien) Bigg,” Peach said.
All are seniors, except for Harness, a junior.
John Hardin, which was formed out of Central Hardin in the 2001-02 school year, had a losing season (3-7), but quickly rose to a state power under veteran coach Mark Brown. “Mark is a great coach, has a great staff, and has a great system in place. They don't change things on offense or defense, they just continue to get better at what they do,” Peach says.
Friday will be the first meeting between the schools on the football field, and most of the state is giving Anderson no chance Friday. It's been a great season and the Bearcats will be thought of highly next year.
Don't tell that to the players though.
“I haven't seen them play but have been watching their scores,” said senior lineman Todd DeWoody.
What the Bearcats can see is a 65-22 win over the same Jeffersontown team that beat Anderson 42-20. But that seems like ancient history.
The Bearcats see a 41-17 win over the same Oldham County team that took Anderson to overtime.
But Anderson also sees that John Hardin defeated Meade County 28-21 just seven days after Meade beat Anderson by the same score. The Bearcats see John Hardin had a 49-0 win over a Waggener team that they beat 44-0. And they see that Bullitt Central fell to the Bulldogs 52-7. Last week, Anderson beat the Cougars 42-7.
“You have to play well bottom line,” Peach said. “You can't turn the ball over and expect to win against a quality opponent. “
Anderson had two turnovers and failed to score inside the red zone once against Bullit. “You can't do that and expect to beat John Hardin,” Peach said.
But Peach will be reminding his team all week that the unbeatable team does not exist.
Yet Anderson vows it will be ready. The state gives the Bearcats no chance, but they are wearing earplugs.
“The kids were in great spirits. But I do think they know the task ahead,” Peach said of Saturday's film session. “We want to win the first regional championship in school history.”
But to do that the Bearcats must knock the Big Dog off his perch.
Peach is selling his team on both the challenge and the opportunity. He asks, “When was the last time we faced the No. 1 team in our classification?”
That's not clear, but No. 1 is coming to town Friday night.
E-mail John Herndon at email@example.com.