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Typically, football coaches like to build up the next opponent, often them as a “sleeping giants” or “a team that is ready to explode on someone.”
It gets even worse when November rolls around. That's when the playoffs start and every game could, in theory, could be the last one of the season. Added to that reality is the fact that a large number of first-round playoff games end up with scores that might cause scoreboard malfunctions.
Which brings us to Anderson County's first round playoff football game with Cooper on Friday night. The Bearcats earned the right to host the tournament opener and are the underdog.
Read that again.
Anderson, with an 8-2 record, is supposed to have a one-and-done post-season if the Rating the State rankings, which appeared in Monday's Lexington Herald-Leader, are to be believed. That computer-based ranking had Cooper, 9-1, favored by about nine points.
Cooper and Anderson got in this situation by having the luck of being in what might be the most balanced region in Class 5A this season. At the beginning of the year, most observers felt Region 3 was a two-team race between Conner and Franklin County with Anderson having a chance to upset one or the other.
But as the season progressed, it became apparent that Cooper and South Oldham were both much better than expected. By mid-season, it was common to see all five teams listed in Class 5A's Top 10. Now, with 32 teams in the tournament, Region 3 is the only one with so many highly-regarded teams.
With that many quality teams, it meant there would be at least one showdown in the first round. Anderson and Cooper are the only Top 10 teams in 5A that will meet in the first round of the playoffs. Their combined 17 wins is the most by opponents in this weekend's 5A games.
“This is the toughest first round opponent we have had since I have been back,” says Anderson coach Mark Peach, who played at Anderson. “They were district champs last year but Montgomery County upset them in the first round.”
Cooper will undoubtedly be the strongest first-round playoff foe for the Bearcats since they lost to Highlands, 56-0, in 2002. This will be the first meeting between the Bearcats and Jaguars.
Despite having the best record in District 5, Cooper found itself in a 3-way tie with Conner and South Oldham for first place. Under the tie-breaker formula that gives a team one point for each victory by the top four opponents, South Oldham won the top seed with 22 points. Conner was second with 21 and Cooper was third with 20, setting up the pairings.
While Cooper is only in its fifth year of competition, Coach Randy Borchers is building tradition the old school way. “They are very sound defensively. Offensively, everything runs through their quarterback, Tyler Morris and running back A.J. Collins. They want to run the football, but they are capable of throwing it as well,” Peach said.
Collins, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior, had rushe for 1,013 yards and 9 touchdowns before Cooper's win over Dixie Heights on Friday. Morris, another senior, had thrown for 1,085 yards and 14 scores.
The Cooper defense ranks only behind Bowling Green among 5A teams, giving up 11 a game. A classic confrontation could be in the works as Anderson is the top passing team in 5A (fourth overall) throwing for 261 yards a game while Cooper is third in 5A defensively, giving up 75 yards a game through the air.
Anderson was not happy with its performance in a 28-12 win over Marion County Friday night, but Peach said his team put that behind them at Saturday's film session.
“We watched the film and went over the corrections,” he said. “Then we moved forward to Cooper. They have our full and utmost attention.”
A year ago, Anderson and Cooper appeared to be on a collision course, but Cooper fell out early. Anderson, of course, went all the way to the state championship game before losing. That was 52 weeks ago.
“What we did last year doesn't give us anything this year,” Peach said. “I told the team that in these tournaments, you focus on your game and your game only. Then you let everything else play out in your bracket.
Randall K. Cooper High School opened in the fall of 2008. Located in Boone County, it was formed to alleviate crowding at Boone County, Conner and Ryle high schools.
The Jaguar football program suffered through three losing seasons before going 6-5 with a district championship in 2011. That was also the school's first playoff appearance. Cooper has never won a playoff game.
Anderson at home again
Anderson is making its sixth consecutive playoff appearance, opening at home each of those years. The Bearcats are 4-1 in the previous five openers winning by an average score of 42-17. Anderson defeated South Oldham, 33-26, in the first round of the playoffs a year ago. Anderson's last first-round playoff loss came in 2009 when Doss upset the Bearcats, 40-37.
Overall, Anderson is 7-10 in playoff openers.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
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