LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Kentucky crowned its four prep football champions during the weekend at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, and some of the state's top prospects delivered with performances worthy of their reputations.
The most intriguing matchup was the Class 2A game, which pitted Belfry's old-school rushing attack against Owensboro Catholic's wide-open passing offense led by Marshall commitment Zach Barnard.
Belfry, the defending champions, used the same formula that produced a 33-27 overtime win over Elizabethtown in last year's title game. The Pirates smashed the Aces with a Wishbone twin-tight set that methodically churned out 526 yards on the ground and defiantly registered a zero in the passing column en route to a 28-21 victory.
Kentucky commitment David Jones, who rushed for 202 yards and four touchdowns in last year's game, delivered another big effort with 176 yards and one touchdown, but even that took a back seat to Doug Howard on this day. The senior sleeper prospect is awaiting his first official scholarship offer, but may have helped his cause in a major way with 278 yards and three touchdowns against Owensboro Catholic.
"Doug and David are the top two guys I've ever had as a pair, hands down," Belfry coach Phillip Haywood said. "Everybody knows they can run the ball, but if you watch them close, they really get out and block for each other ... They're just tough, unselfish kids and winners in every sense of the word. I think they're going to be great players at the next level."
Jones (5-10, 172, 4.41) is headed to the Wildcats coming off a senior season which saw him finish with 1,797 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns and earned a reputation as one of the state's best cover men. He projects as a cornerback at Kentucky.
Howard (5-10, 205, 4.6) is receiving attention from Marshall and Eastern Kentucky among a host of smaller programs. He recorded 2,068 yards and 29 scores as a senior.
"I'd really like to go to Marshall," Howard said. "I've had several people in my family go there, and I've always liked them. It would be fun to go play with Zach. He's an incredible quarterback."
Barnard (6-3, 210, 4.9), who committed to the Thundering Herd prior to his senior season, was valiant in defeat. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns in rallying the Aces from a 28-7 deficit. In the process, he set a new state record for passing yards in a season, finishing with 4,654 and 52 touchdowns.
Dozens of other major programs continue to contact Barnard about the status of his Marshall commitment, but he says he's certain he'll be wearing the Herd's green and white next year.
"I just tell them thanks for showing interest, but I'm real happy with my decision," Barnard said of his recent conversations with recruiters. "Marshall is the perfect fit for me. I love their offense and the way they've developed quarterbacks in the past."
Barnard demonstrated the field vision and touch which saw him complete 65.8 percent of his passes this season. His arm strength and mobility in the pocket were both better than advertised, often buying time and throwing a strike deep down the field.
"He's an excellent quarterback," Haywood said. "He has nice touch, he sits in the pocket well, and he moves without panicking."
Jones, meanwhile, showed why he's considered one of nation's top defensive backs, allowing no receptions and rarely being tested by Barnard.
"That was huge," Haywood said of Jones' coverage. "It was pretty obvious they didn't go to his side very much. That allowed us to do some things on the other side of the field to help out on coverage."
"He's really good," Barnard said. "We don't stay away from anybody, but he didn't seem to give us much. Most of the time, he had his guy covered really well."
Another top prospect helped put an end to the longest title run in state history as Highlands defeated five-time defending champion Boyle County 22-6 in the 3A game.
Boyle, which featured one of the most prolific offenses in state history, was held to only 181 total yards and was forced into six turnovers by the aggressive Highlands defense.
Defensive back Jordan Nevels played a big role, helping make life miserable for Boyle's Brandon Smith. The Rebels' quarterback entered the game with 3,284 yards passing with 43 touchdowns and only six interceptions, but went 8-for-26 for 117 yards and four interceptions against the Bluebirds.
Nevels.(5-11, 180, 4.55) has scholarship offers from Kentucky, Miami of Ohio and Ohio as well as interest from Cincinnati, Wake Forest and Purdue. He'll make his first official visit on the weekend of Dec. 10 at UK. The Wildcats are considered his solid leader.
"They came to the house earlier this week with about four or five coaches," he said. "I've been impressed with how much interest they've shown me. They look really good to me right now. I know I could help them."
Like Belfry's Howard, Beechwood senior running back Dustin Menetrey hasn't been in the recruiting spotlight this season, but his MVP performance in the Tigers' 23-7 victory over Danville in the Class A game may help put the him on the proverbial radar.
Menetrey (6-1, 190, 4.6) was a major workhorse against the Admirals, rushing for 187 yards on 34 carries. He finished his senior year with 2,384 yards and 39 touchdowns, and his physical style makes him an intriguing prospect. Beechwood coach Mike Yeagle said he's receiving interest from Cincinnati, Ohio and a number of smaller programs, but expected things to heat up after his performance against Danville.
Another senior who hasn't garnered national attention, but shined as a senior was on display in the 4A game. Scott County was routed 49-9 by tradition-rich Louisville St. Xavier, but Cardinal wide receiver William Lewis caught 60 passes for 1,026 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
A huge target, Lewis (6-4, 195, 4.62) has offers from Marshall and Minnesota and is receiving interest from Louisville, Kentucky and Pittsburgh, among others. The Thundering Herd is considered his leader at this point. He may be hooking up with fellow Bluegrass star Barnard in the future.
A sophomore stole the show with MVP honors in the 4A game and established himself as one of the state's elite prospects for 2007. St. Xavier tailback Victor Anderson scored touchdowns on three of the first four times he touched the ball (61, 3, 34) and finished with 150 yards on 12 carries in a 49-9 romp over Scott County.
Anderson (5-9, 170, 4.45) capped his first varsity season with 1,039 yards and 27 touchdowns, averaging 7.5 yards per carry. Breakaway speed is his main weapon, but his ability to break tackles and pick up yards after the first hit is even more impressive.
"Victor's very, very special," St. X coach Mike Glaser said. "He's not very strong right now where he's so young, but he has a way of breaking out of tackles. He's got nice balance, he keeps his feet moving, and he's got a knack for spinning out of contact and picking up a lot of yards after he's hit.
"If he really dedicates himself in the weight room before next season, he could be a great player."
Paving the way for some of Anderson's big runs was junior offensive tackle Justin Jefferies (6-5, 273, 5.1), who has picked up early interest from Kentucky and Louisville.
Boyle County junior wide receiver Seth Tamme (6-1, 175, 4.6) had four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown in the 3A game. He capped his season with an eye-popping 73 receptions for 1,419 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's the brother of University of Kentucky wide receiver Jacob Tamme and could be in line to pick up some major scholarship offers next season.
Beechwood junior athlete Eric Sawyer also came up big on championship weekend. He caught three passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 10 times for 54 yards in the Tigers' win over Danville.
Sawyer (5-11, 175, 4.55) caught 29 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing 90 times for 652 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior. He's receiving interest from area programs such as Kentucky, Cincinnati, Indiana, Ohio, Miami of Ohio and Eastern Kentucky.
Scott County sophomore athlete Rodney Haddix (6-3, 185, 4.6) had a touchdown reception in the 4A game and was active on the Cardinals' defense. He's another name to watch for 2007.