MIDWEEK MIDLINE: Douglass in McPeek condition

Dec. 7—Tied at halftime on Friday, needing a win to polish off an undefeated season with a state title, Frederick Douglass didn't panic.

And why should it have? The Broncos knew the stakes. So did their coach.

"Our kids did a good job," Douglass coach Nathan McPeek said. "They'd been in this situation before. I have too."

McPeek was coaching in his fourth state title game in 11 years. He led Fairview to the Class A final in 2012. The next three — as an assistant in 2019 and the skipper in '21 and '22 — came as a Bronco.

All of those until Friday ended in defeat. Douglass wasn't interested in a repeat.

The Broncos pulled away from that deadlock at intermission in the Class 5A championship game in Lexington to blow past Bowling Green, 28-7.

"It is cool to see the heartache and the hard work pay off for one night," McPeek said the next morning. "It's really hard to win a championship."

McPeek would know. Twice before, his teams have lacked just one victory to complete a perfect campaign.

The Eagles went to Western Kentucky University in 2012 undefeated. The 2019 Broncos hadn't lost either when they headed to Kroger Field.

Both of those teams fell in the final. So did last year's Douglass club.

The Broncos avoided a similar fate by shutting down the Purples in the second half.

Bowling Green ran up 258 yards of offense in the first half on Friday, holding the ball for just under 15 minutes.

The Broncos dropped eight players in pass coverage against Purples quarterback Deuce Bailey in the first half, trying to limit his options, "and it just wasn't working," McPeek said.

So Douglass blitzed more in the second half. Bowling Green picked up just 24 yards and held the ball for 7:13 after the break. That's less than a tenth the total yards of offense and less than half the time of possession the Purples amassed in the first half.

Meanwhile, the Broncos used a 98-yard, 13-play third-quarter drive to take the lead, and kept it en route to the first football state title won by a Lexington public school in 41 years.

By the time McPeek unleashed a fist pump or two at the final gun, celebrated with the trophy and his team, and got back to his cell phone to discover 410 or so text messages awaiting him, he hadn't had much time to reflect on where that ranked among the highlights of his career.

He was asked to do that by a reporter the next morning, and after just a couple hours' worth of sleep — the game after all did start at 8 p.m. — McPeek didn't see it only in those terms.

"I was just more thankful for the relationships of our coaches and players that we've built," he said. "For me, it was obviously one of the top feelings that you can have in this profession. It's what you work toward. ... It's taken a lot of dedication.

"It's been a long journey since that first one in '12, and learned a lot of great things through adversity."

That was, of course, at least partially in reference to the detour McPeek's career took in 2013. His path and Fairview's diverged when the Eagles were found to have used an ineligible player and vacated 18 wins across two seasons, including all 14 they accrued in that magical 2012 run.

McPeek does retain positive memories from his time in Westwood, though, and even if the way it ended isn't one of them, that set him on a path to something positive on Friday night.

"You just gotta dust yourself off when you have adversity happen, and it's a situation where you go back to work," McPeek said. "I'm very thankful for the players I coached (at Fairview). We had a lot of great teams and did a lot of great things. That's obviously evident by what we did. Very proud of that as well."

That was almost a decade ago, and all involved parties have long since answered for their roles in that situation. Time heals all wounds, and so does accomplishment.

Garry McPeek — an assistant to his nephew as well as principal and athletic director in that era — led Eastern Kentucky University as the interim coach to a victory at Bowling Green in seven overtimes on Sept. 10.

Tim Champlin, also an assistant to McPeek in 2012 and '13, took East Carter to the state semifinals in 2021 and was named Class 3A Coach of the Year by the Kentucky Football Coaches Association.

And Fred Ray, another Eagles assistant in 2012 who later succeeded McPeek in Westwood, led Bridgeport (Ohio) to its first playoff appearance in 12 years this fall.

On Friday, it was McPeek's turn.

"Very thankful for what the game has given me," the Russell alumnus said. "I could never repay the game what it's taught me, that's for sure."

Three-and-Out—Nathan McPeek was only one of several local connections with a hand in a state crown over the weekend. In fact, he wasn't the only one on his own team.

John Gilliam is Frederick Douglass's linebackers coach. He coached Boyd County from 2013-16 and was an assistant at Morehead State from 1994-2012.

Gilliam was "instrumental," McPeek said, in halftime adjustments to slow Bowling Green's prolific offense.

Broncos senior tight end Thomas Howard is the son of Tucker Howard, who was the cleanup hitter on Paintsville's 1990 state baseball title team and went on to coach the Tigers from 2006-10.

Tucker Howard homered in the 1990 state final, a 10-4 Paintsville win over Tates Creek. His son also came up with a big play in the biggest game 32 years later — a 21-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.

Boyle County three-peated as Class 4A champion on Friday, edging Corbin, 32-26. That meant another ring for Rebels assistants Kyle Singleton — Rowan County's coach from 2011-13 — and Boone Goldsmith, who played at Lawrence County and was an assistant at Rowan County.

And in the Mountain State, Huntington High won its first-ever football championship on Saturday by dropping Parkersburg South, 28-3, in the Class AAA final in Wheeling.

Highlanders quarterback Gavin Lochow rushed for 107 yards and threw a scoring pass. He is the son of Steve and Amy Lochow, who were high school athletes at Russell and went on to collegiate sporting careers.

On Tuesday, Lochow was named the MaxPreps West Virginia Player of the Year. He passed for 2,192 yards, 35 touchdowns and four interceptions and ran for 1,132 yards and 16 TDs this season. He is committed to Dayton.

Huntington's defensive line coach is Ray Brooks, who led Boyd County in 2012.

—Dan Yeagley didn't see any point in leaving anything in the playbook.

"We have fun," South Range's coach said, grinning. "That's the whole idea, is to have fun, in reality, in high school football."

So Friday's state final wasn't too big a moment for the Raiders to dust off a trio of gadget plays.

Ironton successfully defended one — Aidan Young broke up a Raiders pass off a throwback on the second-to-last play of the first half on Friday — but South Range connected on the other two, and both at significant times.

On third-and-10 late in the first quarter, the Raiders ran a flea-flicker. Billy Skripac spotted JD Crouse running free for a 40-yard touchdown — which put South Range ahead to stay.

And up 39-21, but facing fourth-and-4 on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Raiders went to a double pass. Shane Lindsrom took Skripac's pitch and hit Ayden Leon for eight yards and a first down.

Six plays later, South Range scored to stretch its lead to four possessions in an eventual 53-27 victory.

"Why leave something in the playbook after Week 16?" Yeagley said. "It was mainly just having some fun and enjoying the moment."

Fighting Tigers coach Trevon Pendleton said the extra wrinkles didn't necessarily make South Range more difficult to defend.

"Obviously, just gotta play with great eye control all the time and great leverage, and either you do that or you don't," he said. "It doesn't matter what they're doing offensively, it's more about what we're doing defensively. ... If we handle our business, we're always gonna be in the right position."

—Three Northeastern Kentucky Football Officials Association members got to call on the carpet over the weekend.

Laine Hughes of Louisa was the field judge and Owingsville's Cable Wright served as side judge in the Class 3A state title game, in which Christian Academy of Louisville handled Bardstown, 38-0.

And Jeff Adkins of Greenup worked as side judge in the Class 5A final, won by Frederick Douglass, 28-7, over Bowling Green.

Reach ZACK KLEMME at zklemme @dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.