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Wildcats close historic regular season with sixth straight win

One of the most successful seasons in Colbert Heights football history is by no means finished, but even head coach Taylor Leathers has to admit that 9-1 sounds pretty good.

“It has a nice ring to it,” Leathers said on Sunday night, 48 hours after the Wildcats spanked East Lawrence 44-2 to close the regular season on a six-game win streak. “It has a really nice ring to it.”

This year’s Wildcats became just the third team in the program’s 52-year history to win nine games in the regular season, joining the 2007 team and the 1968 team. Colbert Heights (9-1, 6-1 in Class 3A, Region 8) is guaranteed to host a first-round playoff game on November 10 and is still very much in the running to win its first region championship since 1999 [see story on this site].

As good as 9-1 sounds, though, Leathers doesn’t plan to bring it up again any time soon.

“I told the players they tied the record for regular season wins at Colbert Heights,” Leathers said. “Only two other teams here have ever gone 9-1. I congratulated them after the game last Friday for doing something that hasn’t been done very much. Then I told them, ‘From this point forward, I’ll be referring to our record as 0-0.’

“What we’ve done is guarantee ourselves forty-eight more minutes of football. We’re gonna spend the next two weeks getting ready for those forty-eight minutes. Then we’ll go out and hopefully play well enough to earn another forty-eight minutes.”

The Wildcats haven’t won a playoff game since that 2007 team beat West End-Walnut Grove 34-6 in the first round, and no team in Colbert Heights history has been past the second round without buying tickets. This team, which announced its arrival as a legitimate contender with back-to-back impressive wins over perennial powers Colbert County and Lauderdale County in mid-October, has a chance to change that.

Leathers, a Winfield alum and former walk-on defensive lineman at UNA who served as Lexington’s offensive coordinator for four years prior to arriving at Colbert Heights in 2016, has quickly remade the Wildcats in his image. The Mountain Air Raid spread attack of old is gone; in its place is a ground-heavy offense predicated on playing physical and winning battles at the line of scrimmage.

A veteran offensive line led by senior tackle Cain Phifer and three other returning starters has paved the way for a pair of rushers each closing in on the 1,000-yard mark. Senior fullback Dylan Chandler ran through the rain, the mud and the East Lawrence defense for a career-high 185 yards and a score on 27 carries last week, giving him 958 yards and a whopping 17 touchdowns on 149 attempts this season. Quarterback Kevin Shaw, another senior, has run for 809 yards and seven touchdowns on virtually the same number of carries (146).

Defensively, the Wildcats have cut their average points allowed per game by nearly two-thirds, from 29.5 last season to just 10.7 this season. Only a blocked punt resulting in a safety in the second half of last week’s game prevented Colbert Heights from recording its third shutout of the year.

The Wildcats are more than just sound and stingy on defense; they make plays, too, recording 40 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and 13 interceptions during the regular season. The 6’2, 180-pound Chandler (76 tackles, including 12 for a loss) leads a veteran linebacker corps that also includes fellow seniors Korey Saint (69 tackles, two interceptions), Brendan Borden (54 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Bevin Foust (41 tackles).

Senior Bud Pratt (61 tackles, including 8.5 for loss) has had a breakout season at defensive end, and Kevin Shaw—who has picked off four passes despite playing only in certain situations at free safety—is one of three defensive backs with multiple interceptions. [Corners Tanner Rickard, a senior, and Carson Shaw, a freshman, each have two.]

Leathers said Colbert Heights will likely face either Locust Fork or Holly Pond in round one of the Class 3A playoffs, depending on how things shake out. Either way, the Wildcats’ focus this week during the bye will be on themselves.

“We’re gonna work on us,” Leathers said. “On the rest side of things, we’ll take a couple of days off. We’ve been going at it hard for ten straight weeks, and our guys could use a chance to rest their bodies and their minds.

“On the football side, we’ll focus on some things we haven’t done well and need to improve on. We’ll work on the timing of the offense and ball security, and our offensive line will work on executing the blocks we like to use.

“By Thursday night or Friday, we should know who our first-round opponent is, and we’ll start getting ready for them.”

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