In a year that has been far from perfect, Ashland seems to have mastered the art of it anyway.
It was basketball in the spring with their prodigious 33-0 record before having the Sweet Sixteen swept from under their feet by COVID and now they’ve doubled down in football with an 11-0 season that included the Tomcats’ third KHSAA-recognized state title with a thorough domination of Elizabethtown by a score of 35-14 in the Class 3A championship game at Kroger Field on Saturday.
The game was significant for many reasons, including being Ashland’s first perfect season since 1958 when Herb Conley and Dick Fillmore were scooting up and down Putnam Stadium and the first undefeated and untied season since 1942 when Doc Rice and Spencer Heaton were terrorizing opponents in a 10-0 season. It also put the exclamation point on a COVID-marred season that kept the Tomcats scrambling.
Ashland beat the beast after becoming one in the state championship game.
The Tomcats left skid marks on Elizabethtown, piling up 415 yards rushing in a head nod to the 1990 champions that won their title over Lincoln County by a score of 35-13 without bothering to pass much.
Only one school in Kentucky history has been undefeated in basketball in the spring and followed that with an undefeated record in football in the fall. And it happened right here in Ashland in 1928 when the Tomcats finished 37-0 in basketball and 10-0-1 the following fall in football.
Both the basketball and football Tomcats have given us reason to believe even during COVID days.
Nobody expected an undefeated season from either of those Tomcat teams, but the magic happened anyway. It came through coaches – Jason Mays in basketball and Tony Love in football – who put in the work and pushed the right buttons.
Ashland takes a 21-game winning streak at Putnam Stadium into the 2021 season. There will be a new banner flying over the locker room with 2020 on it representing the 12th championship that the Tomcats recognize when that season begins next fall.
We Tomcats like to claim a dozen titles including eight before the playoff format began in 1959 – mythical titles with undefeated teams who finished No. 1 in polls – and another one from the 1975 JAWS team that won the Class AAAA State At-Large Championship (That’s what the trophy says anyway) but lost in the Kentucky Super Bowl against St. Xavier (the KHSAA says the Tomcats were runners-up but we beg to differ).
There’s no debate about the legitimacy of the 2020 Tomcats because of how they overcame COVID and every opponent they were able to play. The toughest foes were in our own eastern Kentucky neighborhood with Russell (10-7 win in the district championship) and Belfry (10-3 in the semifinals).
If you see Tony Love, give him some love. He is one of Kentucky’s brightest high school head coaches and now owns a state title. The work that made that happen cannot be measured in hours, although there was a lot of those. Sacrifices were made beyond the grind of a football season this year when masking up meant more than grabbing the front of the helmet.
Retooled offensive and defensive lines were the heroes on Saturday along with Keontae Pittman, Hunter Gillum and Zane Christian, who could open his own breakfast place after serving up so many pancake blocks against Elizabethtown. From the very start, the highest-scoring team in Class 3A never knew what hit them.
Much will be written in the years ahead about the 2020 Tomcats and a defense that gave up only 59 points in 11 games and allowed double figures only twice. They gave a command performance too on the state’s biggest stage.
It was, well, the perfect ending to a most imperfect year.