It’s déjà vu all over again Friday night as Trigg County treks to the state’s barbeque capital to square off against the Aces in the second round of the football playoffs.
Owensboro Catholic (7-4) handed the Wildcats a 28-7 loss that ended their season last year at Rash Stadium.
While the teams, seeds, location, and bracket position are the same, Wildcat head coach Curtis Higgins knows the teams are different.
"I think we’re better than we were last year, and they’ve got some different players on both sides of the football," he said.
The biggest change for the Wildcats has been their defense, which overcame some early season adversity to finish strong in the second half.
Trigg County gives up just 205 yards a game, including 101 on the ground.
Over their last six games, the pass defense has 13 interceptions and has allowed only two opponents to top 100 yards passing.
Greg Acree has four interceptions since moving into the starter’s role, while Devin Tejada has five to lead the Wildcats.
Trigg County’s primary focus will be to slow down Catholic quarterback Zack Bernard, who has thrown for 3,347 yards and 38 touchdowns this year.
Bernard, who has committed verbally to play at Marshall, threw for 329 yards and six touchdowns in the first half of last week’s 49-20 win against Heath.
"Zack has been more of a leader for us this year. When he makes the plays, the younger kids take notice and look up to him," said first-year Aces coach John Edge.
Bernard’s favorite targets are Heath Wright, who has 61 catches for 1,018 and 14 touchdowns, and Jacob Randolph, who has 926 yards on 50 catches and ten scores.
"They are throwing more vertical routes this year and not as many screens as last year," Higgins said. "They move their receivers around and run different routes, similar to what Daviess County did. "We’re going to have to scheme against them and take away the pass. Bernard is a great quarterback, and they’ve been putting up points on the scoreboard."
The Wildcats will need to apply pressure to Bernard and not give him all day to pick apart the Trigg secondary.
Trigg has 35 sacks on the season, led by Kewanis Kennedy who has a school-record 11.
The Wildcats also got good news last week when senior linebacker Pierre Grubbs returned to the lineup after missing five weeks with a knee injury.
Although Grubbs had surgery, no major damage was found and he was cleared to play sooner than originally expected.
Higgins said Grubbs should see more time on both sides of the football this week as he "shakes off the rust."
With Grubbs returning to the offensive line, that gives the Wildcats more depth and size that will be needed in their playoff run.
"Our biggest disadvantage against Trigg will be our size on the line. Our offensive line has gotten better every week, but we’re going to have to play against Trigg’s big players," Edge said.
Owensboro Catholic’s leading rushers are Houston Kamuf (824 yards) and Robbie Boarman (449 yards).
On offense, the Aces are prone to give up big chunks of yardage, allowing over 200 yards a game.
Trigg County averages 351 yards a game, including 224 on the ground.
Steven Wadlington leads the Wildcats with 122 yards a game, while fullback Taylor McGee has upped his average to 35 yards a game.
In recent weeks, Wildcat opponents have been content on shutting down Trigg’s short passing game, and Higgins expects no different from the Aces.
"We’ve had some success going over the top when they’ve taken away our screens. We missed on some passes last week, but the routes were there. We just have to catch the football," Higgins said.
Tommy Woodall has thrown for 1,294 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season, with Jamaal Boyd hauling in 24 passes for 553 yards and nine touchdowns.
The coaches see big plays and mistakes as the keys to Friday’s game.
"They have some big play people, and we can’t give that up," said Higgins.
In last year’s 28-7 win in Owensboro, the Aces had three run plays and four pass plays that went for more than 20 yards.
Because his team is younger than last year’s region title team, Edge knows the Aces can’t make many mistakes and still beat the Wildcats.
"We can’t do that against a good team like Trigg County. If we make them, we have to shrug them off and keep playing," Edge said. "It should be a toss-up Friday."
The all-time series with the Aces is tied 1-1. Trigg won the 2001 playoff game 21-14 in Cadiz, while Owensboro Catholic evened the series last year.
Trigg County’s 16-12 all-time playoff record includes a 4-4 record in the second round.
Kickoff Friday is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Rash Stadium behind Owensboro High School on Frederica Street.