Smith: Tilghman may be best team we've faced in past five years

November 26, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

During the last five years, Boyle County has faced its share of talented teams while winning 71 of 73 games and four straight state championships.

Yet Boyle coach Chuck Smith says the Rebels may not have faced a team with the overall talent it will face Friday when it plays at undefeated Paducah Tilghman in the Class AAA semifinals.

"We have to raise our level of play to beat Tilghman," said Smith. "They will be the best team we've played in the last five years. They have it all.

"They are a senior-dominated team. They are the fastest team we've played in five years. They are solid at every position and have a lot of future Division I players. They are like a small college team."


Still, Boyle (13-0) is also unbeaten going into Friday's showdown and has won 23 straight playoff games. The Rebels need just two more wins to become the first team to win five consecutive state titles.

"They are awesome," Tilghman coach Perry Thomas said. "They have great talent and great coaches. They obviously know how to win.

"They might not have the big-name players, but they have good football players. They have good team speed and strength. They have the same ability to mix it up on offense that we do, and they can score with anybody. Then they are so sound on defense. They don't have a weakness."

Tilghman (13-0) was struggling when Thomas, a former assistant under Smith at Allen County-Scottsville and Campbellsville, arrived in 2000. He has led the Blue Tornado to three district titles and has made it a state title contender again for the first time since 1992.

"I'm not sure our kids understand the emotion and intensity it takes in a game like this. Boyle has been there. They know it's not like a regular-season game," Thomas said.

Still, Smith knows Tilghman is not like any team Boyle has played this year. Highlands, which plays Mason County in the other Class AAA semifinal, was athletic, but did not have the overall speed or talent of Tilghman. Danville, which has lost only to Boyle, also did not have the overall talent of Tilghman.

"Tilghman is just in a class by itself," Smith said.

Tilghman running back Joe Casey, who has verbally committed to Kentucky, has rushed for over 2,123 yards this year and averaged 8.6 yards per carry. He has more than 6,000 rushing yards in his career. The 215-pound Casey has 85 career touchdowns.

"He has great speed, strength and balance," Smith said. "Perry says every major school in the country has offered him (a scholarship). I can see why because he's so explosive."

"I can't imagine anyone being better," Thomas said. "He is fast, strong and has great balance and vision."

However, he's not Tilghman's only weapon. Quarterback Hunter Cantwell broke school passing records set by Billy Jack Haskins, a former Mr. Football and UK quarterback, and has two receivers - Anthony Barton and Curtis Hamilton - who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. Cantwell is 127-for-199 passing for 2,088 yards and 22 touchdowns. Barton has 44 catches for 754 yards and seven scores and Hamilton 29 catches for 472 yards and six touchdowns.

"They put you in a real bind because they can run and pass," Smith said.

"We try to do that to teams," Thomas said. "Hopkinsville loaded up to stop Casey last week, and that opened things up for our quarterback. We feel like we are hard to defend."

Thomas believes team's strength is defense

However, Thomas thinks his team's strength is on defense. Tilghman is giving up 10 points per game and will be tested by a Boyle offense that averages 46 points per game thanks to quarterback Brandon Smith, who has thrown for 2,510 yards and 36 scores and rushed for 720 yards and 13 more touchdowns.

Tilghman beat Hopkinsville 28-21 last week, but only one touchdown was scored on its defense. Hopkinsville's other two scores came on a kickoff return and fumble return.

"I think our defense has been strong all year," Thomas said. "I don't think anyone has scored more than two touchdowns on our varsity defense."

Outside linebacker Chris Fountain, a four-year starter, is the team's leading tackler, and senior linebacker D.J. Wilson is second. Senior defensive lineman Vincent Burns leads the team in tackles for losses. Junior cornerback Lama Alston has five interceptions.

If that's not enough, punter Barkley Carr was a first-team all-state selection last year, and last week he made a 33-yard field goal.

Boyle is coming off a dominating 63-14 win over Pulaski, while Tilghman had to block a last-second field goal that it returned for a touchdown to preserve its win over Hopkinsville, a team Boyle beat in the semifinals in 2001 and 2002.

"When you go into a game like this, you have to play as a team," Smith said. "Every play we have to play with heart and desire. If we play as individuals, we won't win.

"This is a lot better overall team than we played last week. Paducah Tilghman is a complete team, but we are, too. It should be a heck of a game. Or at least I hope it will be."

Central Kentucky News Articles