Ah, good ole reliable 4A. For years under the six class system we’ve pretty much known what to expect from this class. A champion from the east (7 of the 8 champions came from the eastern side of the bracket), and a champion that was an established power (the same 7 of 8 had all previously won a state title). In the past four years it became an almost afterthought that Highlands would win the title, with only the stunning loss to Collins in 2013 bucking that trend.
But all of that has changed.
Realignment has created in 4A the opportunity for new blood to come to the forefront. Years of frustration are about to melt away for some schools, who have fielded state title caliber teams only to see someone more established in their way. Five of the top eight teams from last year’s final rankings have departed the class, and only one team from our final ranks was eliminated from the playoffs by a team that is still in this class. It’s a new day, and your guess is as good as mine as to who takes home the hardware.
1. Johnson Central (2014: 11-1; 4A Second Round)
Head Coach: Jim Matney
No school is looking forward to the new 4A more than Johnson Central. For years they have steamrolled most of their regular season competition, only to find a more traditional, established program in their way. The last three years they fell to Covington Catholic in the playoffs, and Highlands felled them the four before that. Even a change in class didn’t help them snap that streak because those two programs were moved down with them. No more with those programs moving up to 5A. They never made it to other regional powers like Boyle County or Lexington Catholic, but those teams are gone as well. The Golden Eagles are the clear power on their side. And they have the team to finally make good on so many years of frustration.
Johnson Central returns some 16-18 starters from last year’s team that finished the regular season unbeaten. That includes quarterback Bryce Workman, who threw for 984 yards and 17 touchdowns in addition to rushing for 574 yards and 10 touchdowns, as well as their three leading ball carriers, Bryce Skaggs (990 yards, 14 touchdowns), Connor Ratliff (717 yards, 6 touchdowns), and Gunner Slone (562 yards, 10 touchdowns). It’s a far cry from the previous year that saw them replacing over 3,000 yards of rushing experience. They will be stung slightly from the loss of leading WR Dalton Adkins, but for a team that rushes as much as Johnson Central does, it’s the runners that are most crucial. Defensively, the Golden Eagles lost only DE Patrick Rice out of their top TWELVE tacklers. That from a team that did not allow more than 19 points in a game all year and on average gave up just a hair over 10 PPG. They shut out 3A state champion Belfry, a team that only twice scored below 28 points in their entire season. This is a team that is loaded for bear. If not for their past inability to get past Highlands and Covington Catholic, there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind that they were the clear cut favorite to win it all. And again, those teams are no longer in the way…..