Area high school football predictions

Published 12:43 pm Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The wait is almost over. In a little more than 72 hours, the official start to the high school football season will commence. For the next 11 weeks, local teams will battle on the gridiron with hopes of a state title in the near future.

No one really knows what this season will bring. Injuries can always play a part in the outcome of games for any team. Some teams will surprise pundits while others may go through a slump. With that said, here are my predictions for each of our local teams this season.

Bell County (8-2)

Similar to last season, Bell County will start the year off playing their in-county rival, Middlesboro. While the Jackets look much improved from last year, the Bobcats should be able to take care of business on the road. Trips to Letcher County Central and a home-opener against Pike County Central should yield positive results as well to give Bell a 3-0 record out of the gate.

Whitley County will provide the first big test for the Bobcats on the year. The Colonels lost two of their key weapons to graduation but should provide a solid game for Bell. In the end, I believe the rushing attack will be too much for Whitley with the Bobcats exiting the game victorious — extending their record to 4-0.

Next on the docket is McCreary Central. Last season, the Raiders were able to put a healthy amount of points on the board. The problem was Bell County put up a season-high 75 points. While the game shouldn’t reach those totals, Bell County wins easy to reach 5-0 midway through the season.

The Bobcats’ first hiccup will come on Sept. 28 against Casey County. One of the few teams who posed a threat to Corbin last season, there isn’t much that says the Rebels will take a step back this season. Losing 11 seniors never helps, but they return quarterback Austin Campbell — who threw for 2,376 yards and 22 touchdowns while completing 62 percent of his passes.

To balance the attack, Preston Tucker returns in the backfield. The senior tallied 1,585 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. It’s that balanced attack that will cause problems for a Bell County team that has struggled in the passing game over the past two seasons. Casey wins — ending the Bobcats’ undefeated season and cutting the record to 5-1.

Bell County will get back on track the following week with what should be an easy game against Clay County to improve the record to 6-1.

An Oct. 12 meeting with Corbin will see the Bobcats take their next loss of the regular season. Even though Corbin lost several major pieces from last season, the Redhounds are still a very good football team. Pending on how the versatile Chase Estep transitions to quarterback, Corbin could be in the hunt for a state title. The Redhounds win a close game to cut Bell’s record to 6-2.

The Bobcats should easily dispatch Jackson County on Oct. 19 to lock up the third seed in the district. A trip to Harlan County in the season finale will give Bell County the momentum they need entering the postseason and will help them end the regular season with an 8-2 record.

Middlesboro (4-6)

There is one thing that you can always guarantee with Middlesboro’s schedule — there are no easy victories. The team plays in one of the hardest districts in Class 2A and maybe in all of KHSAA.

The opening game against Bell County at home will provide a nice measuring stick for the Jackets. The Bobcats are a better team than they were last year, as they showcased in a 19-0 victory over Knox Central in the SEKC Gridorama. With emotions running high, this game will be close early on, but Bell County pulls away for the victory in this one — leaving the Jackets 0-1 out of the gate.

Middlesboro will host a graduation-plagued Claiborne team the next week. Last year, Middlesboro had chances to win the game, but turnovers got the best of them. This year, it feels like the Jackets are just the better team. Middlesboro should have the size, speed and talent to overtake the Bulldogs and even their record up at 1-1.

On Aug. 31, the Jackets will play a team that will be able to match them size-for-size in North Laurel. The game is on a neutral field, but that will likely favor the Jaguars resulting in a loss for Middlesboro (1-2).

A game on the road against Harlan will be a tough task for the Jackets. Last year, the two teams played to a 14-12 decision in favor of Middlesboro. I believe that Jackets will be able to pull off the victory on the road to even up their record at 2-2.

A Sept. 14 meeting at Pineville will give Middlesboro a chance to get on the winning side of the win-loss record. Pineville is still a young team finding their footing. The Jackets will have the size and speed advantage here and will walk away with the victory (3-2).

A game against South Laurel will provide a final test before Middlesboro enters a rigorous district slate. The Jackets always seem to play the Cardinals close early on before letting the game slip away late. It feels like a similar situation could happen this year with South Laurel ending the game victorious and cutting Middlesboro’s record to 3-3.

As prefaced in the intro to this section, the next three games will be vicious for the Jackets. Lexington Christian, Danville and Somerset are among the best teams in Class 2A with one of them making to the state semifinals each year. Each one will be a loss for Middlesboro cutting their record to 3-6.

The Jackets’ final chance to grab the fourth win of the season will come in the season finale against Williamsburg. As long as everyone makes it out of district play unscathed, Middlesboro should be able to give the other Jackets a run for their money.

Williamsburg lost the multi-talented Alec Poore to graduation and a few other pieces as well. In what should be a toss-up, I’m picking Middlesboro over Williamsburg to end the regular season with a 4-6 record.

Pineville (2-8)

With high school football, each team — no matter how good or bad — will go through a slump phase. Still trying to recover from losing nearly an entire team of starters just two years ago, it feels like the Mountain Lions are in the stage. Still a pretty young team with six seniors, the Mountain Lions are trying to find their footing.

Pineville will likely open the season with a loss at home against Leslie County. The following week will be a chance for the Mountain Lions to even up the record when they hit the road to play Jackson County. A history of success against the Generals should be proven true once again with Pineville walking away with the victory.

Beginning Aug. 31, the Lions will have a three-game homestand against Paris, Berea and Middlesboro. Pineville will likely exit that stint 1-2 with a victory over Berea being the only win — bringing their record to 2-3.

A three-game road schedule follows the match-up against Middlesboro, where the Lions play Cumberland Gap, Tennessee; Thomas Walker, Virginia; and Lynn Camp.

Games against Cumberland Gap and Thomas Walker will be close, but I see Pineville coming out on the wrong side cutting their record to 2-5. A loss to Lynn Camp seems inevitable as well (2-6).

The Mountain Lions will end the year with a home game against Williamsburg and a road game against Harlan in the regular season finale. Williamburg should be contending for another district championship and defeat Pineville (2-7).

The game against Harlan will be an interesting one. The Green Dragons return key players in John Brock and Killian Ledford. Pineville should be able to match Harlan player for player, skill for skill. This feels like a close game in the making that will likely be for the third seed in the district.

I see the Green Dragons doing enough to earn the home victory, ending Pineville’s regular season with a 2-8 record.