Mason County and the other 47 football teams still playing in the state of Kentucky stand three victories away from being crowned state titlists as regional championships begin on Friday.
Mason County (8-4) plays host to Bourbon County (12-0) Friday in a Class AAA regional championship. This is the Royals' first trip this deep since 2003, while the Colonels are here for the first time since their run to the 1997 Class AA state title.
Both programs have overcome recent rough times to reach the region finals. The Royals went 2-8 last season, started this year 1-4 and lost seven straight during that stretch.
Bourbon County's struggles make that seem picayune by comparison. Before the Colonels went 8-4 last season, they had eight straight losing campaigns, dropped 34 consecutive games from late 2003 to early in the 2007 season, and went 18-66 during those eight sub-.500 years.
Mason County and Bourbon County have had three common opponents this season -- Lewis County, Powell County and Harrison County. Both teams beat all three of them, the Royals by an average of 22 points and the explosive Colonels by an average of 50 points -- not that average margin of victory means squat this time of year.
Opposite that bracket is a regional final matching Breathitt County (12-0) and host Belfry (10-2). The game is a rematch of last year's regional final, which the Pirates won 28-14 on their way to the state championship game, which they lost 15-14 to Louisville Central.
The Bobcats and the Pirates have had three common opponents -- Sheldon Clark, Pike County Central and Knott County Central. Both Breathitt County and Belfry hammered all three of those foes.
The other two regional finals match Central (10-2) and Bell County (10-2), and Monroe County (11-1) and South Warren (9-3).
The Yellowjackets' only two losses have come to Class AAAAAA opponents, and they've won back-to-back state titles. Their opponents, the Bobcats, have likewise lost only to opponents in higher classes, and they are seeking revenge for last season's 26-0 Central win in the regional final.
The Falcons and the Spartans will play for the second time this season, as they are Class AAA, District 2 opponents. Monroe County won 41-0 Oct. 4 and will host the rematch Friday. South Warren is in just its second season of varsity competition.
As for the other classes, in descending order of size ...
The generally accepted favorite in Class AAAAAA is Trinity, which is in search of its third straight state title. The last team to beat the Shamrocks in the postseason -- and the last Kentucky team to beat Trinity, period -- was archrival St. Xavier, when the Tigers won the 2009 state title 34-10.
The Rocks (10-1) and the Tigers (8-4) do battle this weekend in the regional championship for the third straight season, and are playing Friday for the second time this year. Trinity won 34-7 on Sept. 28.
Pleasure Ridge Park (12-0) hosts Butler (8-3), Scott County (11-1) entertains Simon Kenton (9-3), and Louisville Eastern (10-2) plays host to Ballard (9-3) in the other matchups in that class.
In Class AAAAA, Bowling Green (12-0) continues defense of its state title Friday at home against county rival Warren Central (11-1).
John Hardin and Franklin County are each also 12-0. The Bulldogs host Jeffersontown (8-4), and the Flyers play host to Cooper (11-1).
Pulaski County (9-3) is at Harlan County (10-2) in the other regional final in that class.
Class AAAA's likely favorite is Highlands (11-1), which has won five straight state titles and last lost to an opponent from the commonwealth in the final game of the 2010 regular season. The Bluebirds take on district archrival Covington Catholic (9-3) on Friday in the regional final for the second straight season and have defeated the Colonels already this year, 35-21 on Sept. 21.
Warren East is 12-0 and plays host to Owensboro (8-4) in a rematch of the Red Devils' 39-14 win in the first round of last year's postseason, while Lexington Catholic (10-2) takes on Boyle County (8-4) in the region final for the fifth straight season. The Rebels won the first three before the Knights broke through with a 10-7 win last year, and Lexington Catholic also won this year's regular season district meeting between the two powers, 24-21.
The fourth final features Martha Layne Collins (9-3) vs. Louisville Western (6-6) for the third straight season, or every season of the Titans' existence. The Warriors started the year 0-4 but have gone 6-2 since.
Class AA defending champion Covington Holy Cross was unceremoniously removed from the postseason with a 52-0 loss to Newport Central Catholic on Saturday. The Thoroughbreds (8-4) play host to Walton-Verona (10-2) Friday.
Murray and Somerset are each also 10-2, and each face rematches from regular season action.
The Tigers travel to Caldwell County (9-3), which they lost to 24-21 Oct. 12. The Briar Jumpers host Danville (9-3) in a rematch of their 24-7 win Oct. 5 on the Admirals' home field.
Glasgow, also 10-2, entertains DeSales (8-4).
And in Class A, five teams still playing are either 12-0 or 11-1, and that doesn't even count defending state champion Hazard. The Bulldogs (8-3) host Williamsburg (11-1) in their second straight regional title clash.
Undefeated Fairview's last loss came to Pikeville in last year's regional final, 20-18. The Eagles (12-0) look for a measure of revenge against the Panthers (7-5) on Friday.
Mayfield and Kentucky Country Day square off in a meeting of two 11-1 teams. The Cardinals have been to three straight state championship games, winning one, and shellacked the Bearcats 53-7 in the second round last season.
Frankfort (11-1) and Beechwood (8-4) seemed destined for their third straight regional final date all along. The Tigers, who began the postseason with 15 player suspensions and three dismissals after an underage drinking probe, haven't skipped a beat and defeated the Panthers handily in their last two regional final meetings.