Former UK football star Craig Yeast sees potential for ‘so much more’ at 5-1 Mercer County

In his second season at the helm, Mercer County High School football coach Craig Yeast has his Titans off to a 5-1 start, a marked improvement for a team that finished 5-6 last season and got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.

But this week’s Marion County game represents the beginning of district play, and Yeast says his group has a lot to work on in order to accomplish the goals they have this year.

“I’m a coach that’s never satisfied,” admitted Yeast, a record-setting University of Kentucky wide receiver in the 1990s who coached at Kentucky Wesleyan College before taking over his hometown Titans program. “I always want more. … We have so much more that we can accomplish.”

The Titans have balance with senior dual-threat quarterback Thaddeus Mays (754 yards, three TDs passing and 353 yards, eight TDs rushing) and playmakers Denim Griffieth (356 yards, eight TDs rushing), another senior, and sophomore Ashton Drakeford who has combined for nearly 700 yards and six TDs rushing and receiving.

Drakeford also helps lead a ball-hawking defense that has eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries and has gotten a team-high 44 tackles and five sacks from senior lineman Aiden McKinney.

For the first time in many seasons, Mercer County does not have to deal with Christian Academy-Louisville as a district rival thanks to the latest football realignment by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. CAL won the Class 3A state title last year and ended Mercer’s season in the first or second round of the playoffs in three of the last four years.

Instead, Marion County (4-2), Casey County (5-1) and Garrard County (1-5) stand in Mercer’s path to a district championship. This week marks the beginning of district play for many teams across the state.

Mercer’s five wins include an impressive 38-22 season-opening victory over Class 4A No. 8 Taylor County. But its lone loss, a 42-7 setback to Class 5A No. 7 Southwestern, resonated more with Yeast.

“I never expected us to get beat the way we did against Southwestern,” Yeast said. “They’re an excellent program. They’re big and they’re physical and they kicked our butts. That was a really good wake-up call for our team.”

Yeast liked the Titans’ response in a dominating 42-6 win at Madison Southern last week. He believes if his team continues to work hard and stays healthy, they can make a run at their goals, which include a district title, a region title and beyond.

“I always tell our team we don’t have to be the biggest, we don’t have to be the strongest, we don’t have to be the fastest, we don’t even have to be the most athletic, but if we play with the most discipline and we play harder than the other team, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win,” Yeast said.

Mercer’s homecoming kickoff against Marion County is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Alvis Johnson Field in Harrodsburg.

Mercer County quarterback Thaddeus Mays has thrown for 752 yards and three touchdowns to go with eight rushing scores for the 5-1 Titans.
Mercer County quarterback Thaddeus Mays has thrown for 752 yards and three touchdowns to go with eight rushing scores for the 5-1 Titans.
Tates Creek head coach Jonathan Hawks takes his 3-3 Commodores to 1-5 Paul Laurence Dunbar looking for their first district win against the Bulldogs in six tries.
Tates Creek head coach Jonathan Hawks takes his 3-3 Commodores to 1-5 Paul Laurence Dunbar looking for their first district win against the Bulldogs in six tries.

Tates Creek looks to end streaks

Tates Creek’s 3-0 start crashed into three straight losses to Frederick Douglass, Bryan Station and Ballard, all Class 6A top 10 teams, in the weeks since.

This week’s game at Paul Laurence Dunbar (1-5) represents a chance for the Commodores to end their three-game losing streak and put a dent in the Bulldogs’ hopes for a fourth consecutive District 7 crown.

“We needed to go against better competition, taking it up a notch,” Tates Creek coach Jonathan Hawks said of his early season schedule. “One thing that I’ve seen out of my kids is that they’re not afraid to fight. So, the score doesn’t really bother me as much. Their mindset is on our goal for the year and that’s to continue to fight, regardless of the battles we go through.”

Dunbar coach Wes Johnson argues the same mantra with his team, which has stumbled to its worst start in his six seasons.

“I think we have a great mindset. We understand the process this year and I’m as excited as I was Day 1 to coach this group,” Johnson said. “We’re excited about getting into district play. You know, we play six scrimmages to get to the only three games that really matter. It’s 0-0 (in district play). It doesn’t really matter what you’ve done or haven’t done up to this point.”

Dunbar QB Ethan Teall and leading wide receiver Trae Berry are expected back in the lineup after early exits due to injury in the 43-14 loss to Simon Kenton last week. Teall has thrown for 1,238 yards and eight TDs and run for four scores. Berry has 557 yards receiving and five TDs.

Tates Creek will also look to end a five-game losing streak to Dunbar behind the play of dual-threat senior QB Andrew Witherington who has more than 1,000 yards of offense and 10 TDs. However, leading rusher Marquevion Smith remains a question mark after sustaining an injury against Bryan Station two weeks ago.

Regardless, Hawks believes he’s getting his team ready to make a run.

“Our kids are motivated,” he said. “They understand that we had to go through those tough games to be built for the playoffs.”

Tates Creek and Dunbar kick off at Jon R. Akers Stadium on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Other Lexington games

Henry Clay (0-5) at Bryan Station (3-2), 6:30 p.m. The Defenders emerged this week as the KHSAA RPI’s No. 1 team in Class 6A thanks in part to their difficult early schedule.

Sayre (5-0) at Bourbon County (0-5), 7:30 p.m. Though winless, the Class 3A Colonels could prove a difficult test for the visiting Class 5A No. 6 Spartans.

Fort Knox (0-6) at Lexington Christian (5-1), 7:30 p.m. Washington County (4-2) is the only other team in LCA’s district with a winning record.

Bye week: Frederick Douglass, Lafayette, Lexington Catholic.

Rivalry games

Battle for Eagle Creek: Gallatin County (3-2) at Owen County (3-3, 7:30 p.m. Owen County routed Gallatin 34-0 last season.

Other rivalries: Cooper (4-2) at Conner (4-2), 7 p.m.; South Laurel (4-2) at North Laurel (2-3), 7:30 p.m.; Pineville (1-5) at Williamsburg (2-2), 7:30 p.m. Lawrence County (4-1) at Belfry (3-3), 7:30 p.m.

Should be a good one

Bishop Brossart (2-3) at Paris (5-0), 7:30 p.m. Formerly district rivals, the Mustangs have won six straight over the Greyhounds.

Other games: Johnson Central (3-2) at Corbin (5-0), 7:30 p.m.; North Oldham (4-2) at Franklin County (5-0), 7:30 p.m.; Rockcastle County (5-1) at Bell County (6-0), 7:30 p.m.

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