With the Class A First District championship in the bag and a potential two-game homefield advantage for the playoffs, Crittenden County’s eighth-ranked football team might generally find it tough to focus on a meaningless, non-district matchup the last week of regular season.
But that will not be the case this week as the Rockets travel 25 miles down Ky. 91 to meet Caldwell County (5-3). The matchup is one of the most intense rivalries in school history and this season’s game may be one of the best in recent memory.
The Tigers have won three straight over Crittenden but the Rockets have won five of the last 11 encounters.
“It’s going to be a great high school football game,” said Rocket coach Al Starnes, whose team has lost just twice in nine games. Both losses were to ranked Class 4A teams.
The Massey power ratings says the Crittenden-Caldwell game is a virtual tie on paper, although Crittenden is rated slightly above Caldwell in most high school rankings.
“They will try to exploit what may be our weakness on defense,” Starnes said, pointing to a secondary that has been stretched and bruised at times this season.
Caldwell County throws the ball much of the time. Last week, in a 35-23 loss to Trigg County, Tiger quarterback Will Barnes, the coach’s son, completed 18-of-27 passes for 273 yards. Caldwell ran the ball 28 times for 120 yards.
The Rocket defense is choking teams to death on the ground, holding opponents to just 71 yards per game. Meanwhile, opponents have passed for 1,528 yards, an average of 170 per game. Only two teams have rushed for more yards than they’ve thrown for against the Rockets. Those were Mayfield and Fulton County. In five of nine games, the Rockets’ opponent has gained fewer than 60 yards rushing while teams have thrown for more than 200 yards four times. Lone Oak hit the Rocket secondary with 342 yards passing.
Although the Tigers’ bread-and-butter is short routes and screens, Barnes can throw deep. Eric Faughn is Caldwell’s top receiver with 40 catches for 724 yards.
“We’re going to have to mix up the coverages and get some pressure on the quarterback,” Starnes said.
The Rocket coach says that although the district schedule is over, this week’s game is for bragging rights.
“It’s a big rivalry so you can throw everything else out the window,” he said. “This is as big a game for them as it is for us.”
The key Starnes says is sustaining a solid running game and keeping the ball out of Caldwell’s hands.
“Time of possession will be the key to winning this one,” he said.
After the Caldwell game, Crittenden will have an off week on Nov. 7 before opening the playoff schedule at home Friday, Nov. 14 against Kentucky Country Day, a small, private Christian school in Louisville.
Kentucky Country Day is 2-6 this season with victories over Class 4A Atherton and Class A Second District opponent Beth Haven. Atherton and Beth Haven have just two wins between them.
“I know nothing about them,” Starnes said. “Right now, it’s Caldwell we’re focused on.”