Here is a look at the top Louisville-area games to see in Week 1 of the high school football season:
Hopkinsville at Ballard, 7:30 p.m.
This will be the final season of football for Hopkinsville, as the school is set to merge with Christian County to form Hopkinsville Christian County Academy next year. The Tigers are ranked No. 9 in The Courier Journal’s Class 4A poll after going 7-5 last year and reaching the second round of the playoffs. Senior Daisjaun Mercer is one of the state’s top two-way players. The Miami (Ohio) commit had 44 catches for 1,127 yards and 13 touchdowns and also posted 51 tackles and six interceptions as a defensive back last year.
Ballard is ranked No. 8 in the Class 6A poll after going 8-4 last season. The Bruins return five starters on offense, led by senior quarterback Tristen Hawkins (1,915 passing yards, 20 touchdowns last year). Ballard is even more experienced on defense, where eight starters return. Senior linebackers Gavin Willis (83 tackles, three interceptions) and Jamarques Frank (78 tackles) ranked 1-2 in tackles last season. Ballard won 28-3 at Hopkinsville in last year’s season opener.
Manual at Central, 7:30 p.m.
It’s the debut of Manual head coach Donnie Stoner, who replaced Scott Carmony in the offseason. Stoner had been an assistant at Manual since 2016 and was the Crimsons’ defensive coordinator the past two seasons. The Crimsons are ranked No. 4 in Class 6A but will breaking in several new starters on offense after the graduations of quarterback Darien Wilson and running back Ja’Waun Northington. The defense should be stout behind senior lineman Beni Tshita (Marshall commit) and senior back Amare Townsend (Southeast Missouri State commit).
Central, ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, returns 13 starters (six offense, seven defense) from last year’s 7-5 team that reached the second round of the playoffs. Sophomore running back Cortez Stone rushed for 1,377 yards and 21 touchdowns and averaged 9.8 yards per carry as a freshman. He holds scholarship offers from Eastern Kentucky, Louisville, Purdue and Western Kentucky. Central dropped a 14-12 decision to Manual in last year’s season opener.
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Christian Academy at South Oldham, 7:30 p.m.
Christian Academy returns 16 starters (seven offense, nine defense) from last year’s 11-2 team that reached the third round of the Class 3A playoffs. The Centurions, ranked No. 3 in Class 3A, are led by sophomore quarterback Cole Hodge (2,101 passing yards, 28 TDs last year). He has scholarship offers from Central Michigan and Eastern Kentucky. Junior wide receiver/defensive back Justin Ruffin, a transfer from Oldham County, will be a playmaker on both sides of the ball. He has offers from James Madison, Louisville and South Florida. CAL beat South Oldham 31-11 in last year’s opener.
South Oldham is the pick to win Class 5A, District Four after a 9-4 season that ended with a loss to eventual state champion South Warren in the third round of the playoffs. Senior Jack McCubbin returns to lead the Dragons offense after rushing for 628 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Senior Grayson Brashear (6-foot-4, 300 pounds) is one of the area’s top offensive linemen. He has offers from Army, Austin Peay, Dartmouth, Eastern Kentucky, Murray State, Southeast Missouri State and Western Kentucky.
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Owensboro at St. Xavier, 7:30 p.m.
Owensboro, ranked No. 5 in Class 5A, returns 15 starters (eight offense, seven defense) from last year’s 12-2 team that reached the state semifinals. Senior quarterback Kasey Boone took over for Gavin Wimsatt and passed for 1,430 yards and 23 touchdowns. Senior running back Kenyatta Carbon (681 rushing yards, 12 TDs) is expected to have a big year. Owensboro dropped a 51-38 decision to St. X in last year’s season opener.
St. X, 14-1 last year, is the defending Class 6A champion and is ranked No. 1 in the class entering the season. The Tigers return five starters on offense but must replace their top two playmakers after the graduations of quarterback Jack Sivori and wide receiver Mekhi Smith. The defense was injury plagued last year but should be a strength in 2022. Senior defensive end Micah Carter (Purdue commit), junior defensive end Tyler Neal and senior linebacker Jaxon Panariello will be leaders.
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Trinity at Carmel (Indiana), 7:30 p.m.
After an 0-6 start under new head coach Jay Cobb, the Shamrocks rallied to reach the Class 6A state semifinals and finish 6-8. Trinity enters this season ranked No. 3 in Class 6A and will be breaking in new starters at quarterback and running back. Senior Drew Allen and junior Jackson Hepner are competing for the No. 1 quarterback spot, and junior Luke Sasser looks to take over at running back after rushing for 359 yards and three touchdowns last year. The defense returns eight starters, with senior Cole Wickliffe and junior Brady McEnaney anchoring the group as inside linebackers.
Carmel, which finished 9-2 last year, enters the season ranked No. 3 in Indiana’s Class 6A. Two Carmel senior defenders have committed to Purdue — safety Winston Berglund and end Will Heldt. Carmel coach John Hebert told the Indianapolis Star that seniors Jackson Kazmierczak and Cameron Carmichael will share time at quarterback. “Every year we’ve needed more than one quarterback out of necessity, so we need to prepare them,” Hebert said. “We’ll find a way to make that work.” Carmel won 49-38 at Trinity to open last season.
Here’s the rest of this weekend’s schedule for Louisville-area teams:
Atherton at Henry County, 7:30 p.m.
Warren Central at Bullitt Central, 8 p.m.
Western at Butler, 7 p.m.
Collins at Shelby County, 7:30 p.m.
DeSales at Central Hardin, 7:30 p.m.
Southern at Doss, 7 p.m.
Kentucky Country Day at Eastern, 7:30 p.m.
Fern Creek at Jeffersontown, 7 p.m.
Male at Floyd Central (Ind.), 7 p.m.
Moore at Seneca, 7 p.m.
Elizabethtown at North Bullitt, 7:30 p.m.
Carroll County at North Oldham, 7:30 p.m.
Simon Kenton at Oldham County, 7:30 p.m.
Valley at Pleasure Ridge Park, 7:30 p.m.
Shawnee at Fort Knox, 7:30 p.m.
Anderson County at Spencer County, 7:30 p.m.
Waggener at East Ridge, 7:30 p.m.
Beechwood at Fairdale, 7 p.m.
Holy Cross vs. Taylor County, 8:30 p.m. at Campbellsville’s Forcht Bank Bowl
Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @kyhighs.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: KHSAA football: Top 5 Louisville- area games to watch on opening night