The winner gets a Thanksgiving morning practice and a date on Black Friday.

North Hardin (12-0) welcomes McCracken County (9-3) at 7:30 tonight in the quarterfinals of the Class 6-A UK Orthopaedics/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl.

The state semifinals are slated for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29.

A Trojan victory puts them at Ray Story Stadium against an opponent to be determined.

“It’s always great to play at home,” junior linebacker Michael Lunz said.

Because of the new RPI system, the semifinals will not be paired until the quarterfinal match-ups are completed.

North Hardin has the second-best RPI and is guaranteed a home game with a victory. Male sits atop the RPI rankings.

Those two are followed by: 4. Trinity, 7. McCracken County, 9. St. Xavier, 10. Tates Creek, 13 Simon Kenton and 17. Oldham County.

The other three semifinal matches are Oldham County at Trinity, St. Xavier at Male and Simon Kenton at Tates Creek.

The team with the highest RPI will host the team with the lowest RPI in one semifinal. The teams with the second- and third-best remaining RPIs play in the other semifinal.

The championship game is slated for 2 p.m. Dec. 8 at Kroger Field in Lexington.

North Hardin sophomore quarterback Manie Wimberly is 144-for-225 for 2,373 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Josh Moore leads the receivers with 41 receptions for 807 yards and nine scores. He is followed by Camron Smith (36-728-6), Marcus Harris (36-591-7), Lavell Wright (39-497-3) and Ramaj Adams (38-428-3).

“As long as we get that W and we’re going to the next week and to the state championship, which is our ultimate goal, it don’t matter how we get there — by field goals, touchdowns, it honestly doesn’t matter,” Harris said. “If the defense only scores, it doesn’t matter. If we’re getting there, we’re getting there. That’s all we’re worried about. We work hard every week to prepare for the team on Friday.”

The Trojans average 262.2 yards per game through the air.

“It will be critical for us to limit the explosive plays,” McCracken County coach Marc Clark said. “They are extremely talented on both sides of the ball and they have players at the skill positions that have home run, play-making ability. We are going to have to play fundamentally sound defensively and force them to have extended drives.

“Both Mayfield and North Hardin run schemes that are similar. Both have Franklin System concepts and look to get the ball to their athletes in open space. It will be imperative for us to tackle in open space and maintain our leverage on their screen game. If we do not tackle well on Friday night, they have the ability to make short completions into explosive plays.”

The ground game averages 145.9 yards per game with Wright garnering 90.7 percent of the damage. He has 233 carries for 1,589 yards and 22 touchdowns.

“We take pride in blocking for our running backs,” Harris said. “If that’s the game plan, that’s what we’re gonna do.”

McCracken County averages 42.2 points, 228.4 passing yards and 210.1 rushing yards per game.

Quarterback Elijah Wheat is 153-for-282 for 2,741 yards, 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

His favorite target is Franklin Hayes, who has 64 catches for 1,540 yards and 26 scores. Zander Mayes has 33 receptions for 540 yards and four touchdowns. He caught nine passes for 197 yards and a score last week.

“They’re definitely an offensive team,” North Hardin coach Brent Thompson said of the Mustangs. “Their coach has always been very skilled at getting certain people the ball. They have a quarterback who does a very good job and doesn’t turn the ball over very much. He gets rid of it quick.

“Obviously, they’ve plugged in some people (because of injuries). If you plug in some people in the last two weeks, they’ve played very well offensively. They put up 57 against Apollo and last week a grind-it-out game (17-6) over Henderson. It will definitely be a challenge for us.”

McCracken County’s defense has allowed six points and 267 yards in two playoff games.

Hunter Bradley was the Mustangs’ top rusher with almost 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns, but is out for the year with a leg injury.

“I think that it is imperative for any offensive team to extend drives and convert on third down,” Clark said. “I am sure that if you talked to Coach Thompson, he would say that he would want to improve on the 14-for-39 third down efficiency that they have had over the last four games. Offensive efficiency and field position are not offensive premiums that are exclusive for McCracken County.

“At the end of the day this game will be decided on who’s team is going to be most efficient offensively and limit the explosive plays of the opposing team. Since we have been at McCracken, we have never been a ‘grind it out’ offense. We are going to do we what do from an offensive perspective.”

McCracken County has won three in a row and 9-of-10 after an 0-2 start.

“They are still about 50-50 run-pass and that hasn’t changed much since that young man was injured,” Thompson said. “We try to go out there, see what they do best and try to limit what they do. You can’t try to mimic everything they do because they are such a good offensive team. We just have to go out there and play, make sure our guys know how to line up to them and know what plays might be coming.”

Wright ran the ball 30 times for 20s yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 31-7 win over Central Hardin.

“Lavell is definitely somebody that we have to count on,” Thompson said. “We didn’t know that 30 carries would be it, but when you take away certain things, we’re definitely gonna give him the football and make him grind it out on you. In the second half he did a very good job of running.

“We felt like we had to do that to win the football game and that’s what we did.”

North Hardin’s defense allows 7.91 points, 87.1 passing yards and 44.6 rushing yards per game.

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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