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What’s new is old again for Admirals

Making it to the state semifinals is nothing new for the Danville football team. But after going five years between appearances before last year’s game against Newport Central Catholic, it was uncharted territory for the Admirals.

With a return trip to the Class 2A final four this year, where the Ads will host Covington Holy Cross at 7:30 p.m. Friday, coach Clay Clevenger is counting on some of that novelty to not be there.

“Last year, we hadn’t been there in a while as a program,” he said. “Five or six years without winning a region at Danville is an eternity. That group hadn’t been through it. Now, obviously we’ve been through it.

“Hopefully Zach (Dampier) and Christian (Hill) and David (Walker) and Dmauriae (VanCleave) and Don (Harris) and Ellison (Stanfield) and those seniors and juniors that played a lot last year can help these younger guys.”

There was quite a bit of turnover from last year’s roster to this year, with players like Stephen Ray, Triston Coffey and Hamilton Young graduating and handing over the keys to a new group. However, with players such as those Clevenger listed, there is enough experience on this year’s field to remember what it was like last year.

“We’ve got three or four juniors who play a lot for us who didn’t play last year; I consider them like a sophomore,” Clevenger said after the Ads beat Lexington Christian 34-28 on Friday.

“There’s a good mix there. There are a lot of guys who are excited. We’ve got to come back down to reality on Sunday and learn from the film and get ready to play Holy Cross.”

The Indians enter Friday’s game with a 10-3 record and fresh off a 26-21 win over Newport Central Catholic. It’s their first time in a state semifinal since winning the 2011 state championship.

This year, they’re led by Derrick Barnes, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior who has committed to play at NCAA Division I University of Toledo. He’s rushed for 1,477 yards with 20 touchdowns.

END OF THE ROAD

It’s tough to see any season end, but especially this year for Casey County. The Rebels shattered too many school records to count on their way to the Class 3A region championship game.

And they did it with style, class and excitement. Quarterback Breece Hayes and running back Collin Miller are the storybook duo — childhood friends who rose through the ranks to give life to a program which has spent entirely too long as an afterthought.

Usually, one person cannot make a big enough impact on a team to completely reverse its course, but coach Steve Stonebraker did just that. In his second stint in Liberty, he led the Rebels to a 10-2 record, setting school marks for wins in a season and deepest playoff run, among many, many others.

While it’s entirely too early to start looking to next year, don’t expect the Rebels to return to their average. The team has caught the attention of the students and community — there were over 170 players in the Casey youth league this year — and with Stonebraker at the controls, they should ride the momentum of this wave into new-for-the-Rebels territory.

END OF THE ROAD II

If you want to see how much a coach can influence a program, you can also look to Mercer County, where David Buchanan has the Titans contending for district and region titles. This year, the Titans took another step in the postseason, advancing to the Class 4A region championship before falling at Wayne County.

Buchanan has provided unwavering leadership for the Titans. Last year, they started 0-5 before winning six straight and playing in the region semifinal. This year, they hit a rough patch, losing three of four games to fall to 3-4 in a season so full of promise and expectations, before reeling off four wins in their final five regular season games.

The Titans lose key players from this team — guys like D Smith, Tyus Short, Tanner Robins and Grayson Blevins who will play college football — but with Buchanan returning quarterback Gunnar Gillis and do-everything-star Trevon Faulkner for next year, don’t be surprised if they make yet another step deeper into the playoffs.

TIME FOR AWARDS

You’ll definitely want to get an extra copy or two of Friday’s paper, where we’ll announce the 2016 All-Area team with Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, Lineman of the Year and Coach of the Year.

While you probably won’t be surprised at a couple of those awards — they really were no brainers — the depth of talent in the area this year gave us some interesting votes. The teams were voted on by area coaches along with the staff at The Advocate-Messenger.

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn