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COLUMN: Third and long in the playoff season

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By John Herndon

We're at third and long. That's the third round of the state high school football playoff season and a long way to go to get to the fourth step of a five-step journey to a state championship.

Friday night, it's for all the regional marbles. It is probably the most anticipated game at Anderson since the Bearcats hosted Southwestern in the 2011 state semi-finals. That one came after the Bearcats had defeated Conner for the regional title.

But this is a different year and a much different scenario. Anderson County vs. Franklin County with a trip to the state Final Four is what high school football is all about.

You have two historically decent programs that have striven for years to join the state's elite. It has been a journey that, for them, has been largely futile. There have been great teams over the years, but Anderson has only one regional title, that one that came two years ago, to show for it.

Franklin has been in a bit of the same boat, with only one regional final appearance – last year's 40-27 loss to Cooper – since 1995. Beyond that time, KHSAA records are sketchy.

It is two schools that have had long rivalries in other sports, but only a recent one in football, going at it for the chance to get one step closer to Bowling Green and the state Class 5A final.

Even though Anderson won by two touchdowns when the teams clashed on Oct. 18, Franklin is considered the slightest of favorites in the Rating the State rankings that appeared in Monday's Lexington Herald-Leader.

Franklin was listed as a half-point favorite by the Litkenhous ratings in Tuesday's Courier-Journal.

It really could be that close.

 

**Anderson has played one of the toughest schedules in school history. Three Anderson opponents, Mercer County and Collins in Class 4A and Franklin County in 5A, are still alive in the state playoffs. Anderson also scrimmaged unbeaten Mason County (3A) in its final tune up for the season.

Franklin County has also played three teams that are still alive. Franklin has wins over Frankfort and Beechwood, which play for a Class 1A regional title Friday night. Franklin also played Anderson County.

 

**Left over from Friday's win over Conner is vastly underrated job the Anderson County defense has done all season long, including Friday.

Since the Bearcats slipped past Conner, it has been popular to question Drew Barker after hitting just 6-of-23 passes. Granted, Barker got off to a slow start, but he had several passes dropped, which is a little bit of a problem for a a quarterback, you know.

But to just say it was an off night from Drew Barker overlooks the fantastic job the Anderson defense did for 48 minutes. They harassed Barker all night long and forced him to throw before he wanted to.

Barker can play. Forget his pedestrian passing stats Friday night. He's big. He's strong and a legitimate threat. He ran for 111 yards.

Obviously, tacklers from Alabama will be tougher than Anderson County, but Barker has the size and release that should be a fit for Neal Brown's attack at Kentucky.

 

**Finally a hoops note.

It is a coincidence that our basketball feature, entitled “String Music on Tour,” comes out three days after Mr. String Music, Joe Dean, passed away.

We had an idea to play off some music interests of the Anderson coaches for the preview and, yes, the String Music part of our theme was my little tribute to Dean, the LSU All-American who probably did more to popularize basketball in the southeast than anyone not named Rupp.

Our preview went to press last Friday.

I never met Joe Dean, but something tells me he would have liked our tribute.

May he rest in peace.