The Wayne County Cardinals, 10-1 on the season and Class 4A District Seven champions, return to action this Friday night traveling to District Eight champs Johnson Central.  The Golden Eagles are Class 4A defending State Runners-Up and advanced into the matchup with a 50-6 home win over Harlan County, while the Cardinals advanced into the matchup with a 63-49 home win over Corbin.  The contest marks the fourth meeting overall between the two schools and fourth meeting in five years, as Johnson Central claimed a 43-24 decision at Jewell Field in 2017, to own a 3-0 series advantage.

    "What a great opportunity for our program, school and community to 
travel to Johnson Central this Friday night to compete for a region 
championship.  We know Johnson Central has a great program and great 
team, so it's going to take a tremendous week of practice to be ready 
to compete.  We have played those guys down to the wire once, had our 
chances another time and failed to get off the bus other, so I told 
our guys just have fun and be loose.  This is a great opportunity and 
we just have to make the most of it," said Wayne County head coach 
Shawn Thompson.
    Johnson Central, under the 16th year direction of veteran coach Jim 
Matney, has been a powerhouse program since his tenure started with 
an eye-popping 158-36 record.  This year's team has been as strong as 
ever averaging 47.3 points per contest and allowing a very stingy 9.5 
points per outing.
    "Coach Matney has been around a long time and he's obviously very 
good at what he does, as Johnson Central has all around one of the 
top programs in the state.  They have a great football team. It 
starts with big and strong guys on both lines in the trenches.  Also, 
they have outstanding players at the skill positions and I'm really 
impressed with the discipline they play with on both sides of the 
ball.  They don't make mistakes," said Thompson.
    The Golden Eagles opened the postseason with home wins over Letcher 
Central (49-7) and Harlan County (50-6), dominating their six 
district games by outscoring their opponents 296-25.  The offensive 
attack starts with a punishing ground-game as the squad averages 281 
rushing yards per game and compliments that with an efficient passing 
game that nets 100 yards per contest, to average 381 yards per outing.
    Senior running back Devin Johnson paces the very powerful attack 
with a team best 1,218 rushing yards on just 99 carries with 16 TDs, 
plus is threat as a receiver with 7 catches for 127 yards and an 
additional 3 scores.  Senior Cody Rice has added 63 carries for 506 
yards with 11 scores, while senior Bryce Tackett has 63 attempts for 
491 yards with 7 TDs.  Dillon Preston and Reece Gross combine with 14 
other players that have rushing attempts on the season.
    "Offensively they pound you to death and it starts with a big 
physical offensive line.  They are really good at coming off the 
football and they also have a lot of different kids that run the 
ball, but all have a mix of power, speed and athleticism, starting 
with Devin Johnson. That kid is a man and we certainly remember him 
from a couple years ago," said Thompson.
    Senior quarterback and four-year starter Riley Preece has completed 
47 of 63 passes for 1,133 yards with 17 touchdowns against just 2 
interceptions, plus is a threat to run the football with 55 attempts 
for 513 yards and an additional 12 touchdowns.  Senior Seth Dalton is 
the favorite target with 19 receptions for a team high 616 yards and 
10 scores, while Zach Russell has 13 catches for 241 yards and 2 TDs.
    The Cardinal defense, which is allowing 27.7 points per night, is 
led by the 95 total tackles, which includes 10 tackles for a loss of 
senior linebacker Cody Roysdon, while Lee Shelton is second on the 
unit with 83 total stops, plus is tied for team honors with three 
interceptions.  Senior Riley Hancock is next with 72 total stops and 
also has three interceptions.  As the unit will look to improve, 
after allowing 559 yards in last week's win, but managed to force 
five turnovers.
    The Wayne County offense, facing its toughest test of the season, as 
the Johnson Central defense allows a very stingy 160 yards per 
contest, is averaging 48.5 points per game and 464 yards of offense 
and that starts with junior running back and All-State candidate 
Braedon Sloan.  Sloan has rushed for 2,703 yards and 47 TDs on 244 
carries and also helps the receiving corps with 20 catches for 6 
yards and 6 scores, while senior wide receiver Tito Ruiz adds 30 
touches for 470 yards with 5 scores. Thomas Spencer also is a weapon 
that has totaled 27 catches for 490 yards and 6 TDs the past nine games.
    "We played our best offensive game last week and that all starts 
with the improvement of our offensive line.  Those guys are 
undersized but keep working to improve each week and we must continue 
to take great care of the football.  They have an aggressive defense 
with great size, but we have to find a way to move the football and 
put our guys in position to make plays," said Thompson.
    Junior quarterback Brody Weaver has completed 102 of 176 passes for 
1,822 yards with 20 TDs, against just three interceptions and has 
rushed 70 times for 235 yards and two scores.  Versatile offensive 
back Carson Simpson has scored touchdowns in five of the last eight 
games and now has 180 rushing yards on just 18 attempts, plus 8 
catches for 168 yards and 3 touchdowns.
    "We know they are very good and have great size on both sides of the 
ball, but we have fought hard all eleven games this season, which we 
expect nothing less this week.  Last week we didn't stress too much 
about game of the year, or anything like that and that will be our 
approach again this week.  We'll do what we do and see if we can't 
keep this thing rolling another week.  Hopefully we'll pack their 
place and be very loud, as these guys certainly deserve it," said 
Thompson.
     Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Johnson Central's Eagle 
Stadium and for all the complete details check next week's edition of 

The Outlook.

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