Even before the mud is cleaned off Ashland’s uniforms after that 10-3 victory over Belfry on Friday night, it’s time to look where that victory ranks among the top 10 in Tomcat playoff history.
Already the 2020 Tomcats are leaving a legacy.
Undefeated and preparing to play for the Class 3A championship against Elizabethtown on Saturday, the Tomcats erased three decades of frustration with that victory against an opponent that simply owned them only a year ago.
For those reasons, along with trying to become the first undefeated team in 62 years, that victory over Belfry ranks at No. 3 behind only the state championship games of 1967 and 1990 that are tied for number one. The 67 Tomcats defeated Elizabethtown 19-14 in the Class AA finals and the 90 Tomcats downed Lincoln County 35-13 in the Class AAA finals.
Of course, the 2020 Tomcats have the chance Saturday to make that a three-way logjam at the top if they can defeat Elizabethtown.
By the way, state championship victories warrantlything but a No. 1 from me.
But as of now, that semifinal victory is No. 3 on my list. I’d get a good argument (and probably will) from friends of 1967, 1972, 1975 and 1990 who advanced to the championship game with impressive semifinal victories too.
To them I say, sorry, make your own list.
Ashland’s 2020 team chilled the defending state champion Pirates with a mighty impressive defensive performance. They limited the elusive and hard-running Isaac Dixon to only 76 yards and held the Pirates without a touchdown. If not for a late fumble deep in their own territory, the Tomcats were headed for a semifinal shutout.
Yes, 1967 Tomcats, I see your hands waving. Those Tomcats did shut out Belfry, 42-0, in the 67 semifinals. Just wait your turn. You have three different games in the top 10.
The No. 4 spot goes to the 1975 JAWS Tomcats, who had to travel all the way across the state to play Paducah Tilghman in the semifinals that season. It was called the State At-Large championship and Ashland fans raised enough cash to charter a flight for them. The Tomcats cashed in with a hard-fought 13-7 road victory as Gary Thomas jetted his way to the end zone on an 85-yard touchdown run late in the game.
The JAWS victory could have easily been No. 3, it was a close call between them and 2020. Maybe the freshness got them. That win over Paducah was a state championship, of sorts, although the KHSAA officially recognizes St. Xavier as the Class AAAA champion in 1975. The Tigers defeated the Tomcats 20-0 in the equivalent to the Super Bowl the week after the win over Paducah in a battle of the biggest division in Kentucky.
The No. 5 spot goes to Ashland’s 19-14 win over Bell County in the 1990 semifinals. I’m sure Chris Hutt, Dwight Walter and Rhett Robinson are jumping up and down mad at me. Again, sorry fellows, but you’re in some fast company here.
That was a great victory at Putnam Stadium and one of the best games ever played there. Ashland was behind 14-12 in the fourth quarter, went ahead 19-14, and then held off determined Bell County after it had driven to the Tomcats’ 30. They were stopped on a fourth-and-one.
Sixth place belongs to the 1972 Tomcats, a team that is largely and strangely overlooked in history. Severely banged-up Ashland fell to Tates Creek 16-7 in the Class AAA championship game and that seems to be what most people remember – not that there’s anything wrong with being runner-up.
What’s forgotten was a 21-6 rock-solid win over Bryan Station in one of the hardest-hitting games ever played at Putnam Stadium. Both teams came away with considerable injuries and the Tomcats had to practically limp into the finals against Tates Creek. It may have been a different story if they had come out of the semifinals healthier.
The 1967 Tomcats, our first playoff state champions, have the No. 7 and 8 spots with two playoff wins. The first one was a 20-13 win over No. 1 ranked Harrison County in the opening round. That was also the first playoff win in school history, making it even more important.
Harrison County had completely dominated the Tomcats in a preseason scrimmage, scoring 11 touchdowns to zero for Ashland. That week of the playoff game the coaches slept in the office at school and watched 16mm film under their eyes crossed. But the defense knew everything that was coming and it fueled one of the biggest upsets in Tomcat history.
The No. 8 spot is also the 67 Tomcats for their 42-0 blitz over Belfry in the Class AA semifinals. It was 26-0 at the half and never a game in a totally dominating performance.
Being out of semifinal games or huge upsets, the No. 9 spot goes to the 2020 Tomcats for their narrow 10-7 victory over Russell in the district championship game. Again, it was a great defensive effort from this Ashland team, which has allowed only the one touchdown from this game in four playoff victories.
The 10th spot was a tie with the 1988 Tomcats for their first-round 27-20 overtime victory over Russell that set them up for the classic semifinal game against Covington Catholic, where they fell 6-0 in overtime.
The other game at No. 10 was the 2003 second-round playoff game against Boyd County. It was a 24-15 victory and allowed coach Leon Hart to atone for a loss to Boyd County in the last game of the regular season. The Tomcats have not lost to the Lions since that game.
So there you have it. The top 10 playoff wins in Ashland history from my view of watching the Tomcats from various viewpoints (young fan, student, sportswriter, old fan) since 1965.
Agree or disagree with the order, you have to say it’s one heck of a list.