Everybody loves a champion. They’re easy to remember, easy to love and easy to praise.
Ashland has had a few of them in football through the years, including 1967, 1975 and 1990 when the Kentucky High School Athletic Association had a playoff system in place. Those are the years that everybody holds in highest esteem.
But two great Tomcat teams of the 1970s are sometimes forgotten in that maroon-and-white tradition because they didn’t win it all.
The 1971 Tomcats may have been the best team in the state that season but never got to prove it in the playoffs because of a flawed system that at the time was unfair.
The 1972 Tomcats did get the chance to prove it but lost in the championshipgame to Tates Creek, 16-7, in the last game ever played at UK’s Stoll Field in Lexington.
As the years have rolled on, the ’72 Tomcats are hardly ever mentioned in the same breath as ’67, ’75 and ’90 simply because of finishing second instead of first. That’s too bad because they provided many of the same kind of thrills and chills.
That kind of curse is also true for the ’62 Tomcat basketball team that also finished second in near miraculous fashion. Those Tomcats were in the considerable shadows of the ’61 Tomcats, still considered one of the greatest champions in state tournament history.
The ’72 Tomcats went into the playoffs with something to prove after the ’71 team didn’t make it to the postseason. Ashland went into the championship game a slight favorite against Tates Creek after defeating Bryan Station 21-6 in the semifinals at Putnam Stadium. The win over the defending state champion Defenders is one of the greatest in stadium history. Everett Talbert and Co. was expected to run roughshod over the Tomcats but it never happened.
In retrospect, that victory may have been one of the five greatest in the 75-year history of Putnam Stadium. The crowd was electric that night and the Tomcats displayed the toughness of coach Herb Conley with some hard-hitting defense. Bryan Station never knew what hit them.
That game alone makes the ’72 Tomcats memorable.
On the other side of the state, Tates Creek stunned No. 1 Union County 28-6 in the other semifinal. Ashland was ranked No. 2 in the final AP poll behind Union County.
The ’72 Tomcats were a good wishbone football team with a stable of outstanding backs in Steve Layman at fullback and Pierre Harshaw and Randy Rice at halfbacks. Jerry Kirk and Mike Kimbrell split time at quarterback. Roger Webb was a standout receiver. Steve Justice was a hulking guard on the offensive line that also included tackles Dave Johnson and Kenny Daniels and center Mark Hickman. Joe Mayer and Mike Wheeler were hard-hitting linebackers and Jerry Bentley was an outstanding defensive back.
However, the win over Bryan Station came with a price. Layman, who rushed for 1,232 yards, had suffered a sprained ankle in the game. Justice was also hurt, as was Randy Elkins and Kirk. Elkins, who was a lineman and a kicker, had an ankle sprain, Justice a knee injury and Kirk a shoulder injury. The injuries the Tomcats had avoided all season had popped up at just the wrong time.
The championship game was played on a bitterly cold night in Lexington and the Tomcats never got untracked, especially the speedy Harshaw, who was the Tomcats best breakaway threat.
Harshaw finished as the Tomcats’ leading rusher with 56 yards, but carried only six times. One of those was a 51-yard run that led to the lone touchdown. Normally, he would have carried it 20 times or more but simply could never warm up enough to be effective.
Tates Creek came back to score a touchdown but Wheeler blocked the extra point and Ashland still led 7-6. It stayed that way until the third quarter when Tates Creek kicked a field goal to go ahead for good. The Commodores rolled up 326 yards rushing and controlled the game. Ashland was held to 138 yards rushing and 24 passing.
Tates Creek’s Gary Moore and Danny Wilkerson each rushed for more than 100 yards against a Tomcat defense that had been stubborn throughout the playoffs against Middlesboro and Bimbo Fuson and Bryan Station and Talbert. Layman had outshined both Fuson and Talbert, who were both first-team All-Staters, as the Tomcats’ defense clamped down.
The loss snapped a 20-game win streak against Kentucky competition for the Tomcats in the 1971 and 1972 seasons. And the seniors on the team were also the sophomores who Conley had stuck with in a trying 1970 season that almost cost him his job.
Ashland’s only other loss that season was a 19-6 decision against Huntington High. The Tomcats had three shutouts and allowed a touchdown or less in six other games. They finished 11-2.
On Friday night, before the Tomcats take on Russell in Putnam Stadium, the 1972 Tomcats will be recognized on the 40th anniversary of that state runner-up season. It’s an honor long overdue and one that I’m sure will be much appreciated by those players.
The names of those ’72 Tomcats still resonate today in Ashland lore with or without a state championship in front of their name. It’ll be good to see them recognized.
Players and cheerleaders from the 1972 team are asked to meet at the back entrance to the stadium at 6:45 p.m. on Friday. The team will be recognized in a pregame ceremony. After the game, there will be a get-together at the Elks Lodge dining room on Carter Avenue.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.
Everybody loves a champion. They’re easy to remember, easy to love and easy to praise.
- Local Sports
63rd softball: Greenup leans on bunting, baserunning; Russell wins
Immersed in another district contest with little breathing room, Greenup County softball coach Eric Keeton resorted to the strengths of his lineup: bunting and baserunning.
Two bunts and a swinging bunt helped the Lady Musketeers scratch across three runs in the fifth inning of a 6-2 victory over Raceland in the 63rd District Tournament opening round on Monday night at Russell High School. Top-seeded Russell defeated Lewis County, also 6-2, earlier in the evening.
Boyd pounds out 11 hits to go along with Grimm’s shutout, 14-0
Robbie Shivel might be a little sore after Monday night, but it was Fairview that left the game battered and bruised.
Boyd County belted out 11 hits to go along with Dylan Grimm's complete-game gem as the Lions roared past Fairview, 14-0, in the opening round of the 64th District Tournament at Ashland's Alumni Field. The game lasted five innings.
Different look, same results for Lady Lions
A longtime fixture in the 64th District softball championship game, Boyd County looked different this return trip.
The Lady Lions defeated Fairview 10-5 in Monday’s district semifinal, which doubled as an Autism Awareness Night. Boyd County players wore light blue shirts and colorful, jigsaw puzzle socks for the event, which had to be rescheduled more than once due to weather problems.
Musketeers explode in final 2 innings to beat Raceland; good times continue for Lewis
Through the first four innings of its 63rd District Tournament opener, Greenup County found itself hitless. The Musketeers made up for it over the next two innings.
Greenup County scored eight runs on eight hits in the final two innings to defeat Raceland, 9-1, at Russell High School on Monday.
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Opponents get the same look from Emily Stewart whether it’s softball, basketball or soccer season.
Steely eyed and lips pursed, the Boyd County senior is keenly focused and all business between the lines.
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It is a saying that proved to be all too true for Rowan County on Friday night at the KHSAA Class 2A State Track and Field Championships at the University of Louisville’s Owsley Frazier Cardinal Park.
Womack eliminated in state semis; Rose Hill, Russell doubles also ousted
Fairview senior Kennedy Womack wasn’t her consistent self in Saturday morning’s state tennis semifinals at the University of Kentucky’s Hilary Boone Tennis Complex.
As a result, the top seed fell to Lexington Sayre sophomore Madeline Rolph 6-1, 6-0.
Womack was obviously disappointed with her finish, especially after losing in last year’s state finals, but she was happy for her good friend Rolph.
If Fairview could have fielded a combined track and field team at Saturday’s Class A State Track and Field Championships, the Eagles and Lady Eagles would have had a record day. Instead, the Fairview girls had to “settle” for fifth, while the boys’ claimed 10th.
Womack eliminated in semifinals
Top-seeded Kennedy Womack was eliminated in the semifinals of the State Tournament on Saturday at the University of Kentucky tennis courts.
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