The Owensboro Red Devils head into the KHSAA Class 5A State Playoffs as one of the hottest teams in its class with a perfect regular season and the top RPI in 5A but coach Jay Fallin and his squad aren’t even close to being satisfied just yet.
Owensboro hosts Breckinridge County at 7 p.m. at Rash Stadium for its opening game, just a few weeks removed from a 69-6 drumming of the Tigers at home.
Despite the dominant win in Week 8, Fallin said they can’t overlook anyone because football is a funny game and the ball may not always bounce their way.
“You have to remind your players that it’s not about your opponents as it is about us improving,” he said. “Even during these two weeks where we didn’t have an opponent, it was important for us to improve. We want to come out Friday and to win is not the only goal, we want to execute well. We don’t want to have mistakes, we don’t want to turn the ball over. We want to force turnovers like we did last time. We want to execute special teams.
“We want to make sure on defense we know what’s going on and we anticipate the plays and that we use our checks, scouting report and our gameplan and apply that properly. On offense, we had a fumble last time we played them. We’re not going to be anybody good fumbling the ball so we’ve got to clean that up. Just want to come out and execute.”
Like many teams around the state, the Red Devils have had three weeks to fine-tune everything for the postseason.
Fallin said the time off was important to get players healthy because even though they didn’t have any serious injuries, a few players had minor bumps and bruises.
“I do think you’ll probably see, statewide, at least the coaches will feel like they’re a little rusty,” he said. “They’re teams are little rusty because it’s been, for almost everybody, there were some games around the state that last week of the regular season, pretty much everybody locally with the exception of Henderson canceled or whatever reason didn’t play that week so much of us are going to be right at the three-week mark since having a game when we kickoff.
“It’s been a blessing and I’m sure in some ways it’s going to impact us negatively potentially too tomorrow night. It’ll just be about which coaching staff has done a good job, which coaching staffs done a good job of keeping their kids focused, on task and on track throughout this bye week period.”
The Red Devils’ perfect regular season was the program’s first since 1993 and while Fallin said the team is excited, they know there’s still more work to be done.
“I congratulated the guys and the coaches when the game was over on Friday but we try to emphasize, we’ll celebrate our accomplishments when we’re done,” he said. “Right now, we want to really focus on one week at a time, let’s keep improving. When I sit down at the conclusion of the playoffs, whenever that is, and look back at Week 1 and watch all the film again, I should see improvement every week.
“If we get to the state championship game, we should be 17 weeks better than we were in Week 1. It’s critical for us, we can’t spend anytime celebrating a City-County Championship or an undefeated regular season right now.”
Owensboro defensive coordinate Drew Hall was a standout on the roster in 1993 and Fallin said that says a lot about Hall’s legacy at OHS to be involved with both teams.
Hall said while it’s been a while since he was on the field, he still remembers it fondly.
“I feel like we had a special team, senior-laden team,” he said. “Had a lot of fun. We enjoyed being around each other, we loved playing ball. It didn’t end the way we wanted to but we went undefeated in the regular season. Got beat by in the second round of the playoffs against Bowling Green, it still hurts me to this day. It was a fun season.”
Hall said there are some similarities between the two Red Devils teams.
“Senior leadership,” he said. “We’ve got some good senior leadership right now. We had the same thing when I played. They like each other and it makes a difference. We got kids that will go to war for each other, got each others back, do anything they can to help each other out. We were the same way when I played.”
One of those seniors is wide receiver Ben Flaherty.
Flaherty said he was just excited to even have a season this year.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here and have the opportunity.”
Flaherty leads OHS with 355 receiving yards and is second on the team with five touchdown catches.
He said he knew he’d have an impact this season but admitted he wouldn’t have the stats he does without his teammates.
“I knew that my teammates would always help me out,” he said. “If Trey Tinsley wasn’t as good as he was then I wouldn’t be able to be wide open for a touchdown. They’re going to look at Trey and we have so many weapons.”
Six players have a rushing touchdown and eight players have a receiving touchdown for the Red Devils this season, which helps Fallin achieve the balance he wants on offense.
“Anybody can score,” Flaherty said. “We never take a play off but we just know that Kenyatta has the ball, he’s getting a touchdown. Ethan has the ball, he’s getting a touchdown. Same thing with all the receivers.”
When asked if any of the current players have asked about the 1993 season, Hall was quick to answer.
“We haven’t really talked about it,” he said. “Right now, we still got a season going on. It’s an accomplishment for those guys but they can still have a bigger picture, want to go to state. That’s the goal.”