.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

Historic argument: '86 vs. '07 Wildcats

-A A +A
By Tommie Kendall

What would happen if the 1986 Henry County High School football team played the 2007 Wildcats?

It's like comparing the 1972 Miami Dolphins to the 2007 New England Patriots - though on a more local scale. Wilt Chamberlain to Shaquille O'Neal - both in their primes of course. And, as we hear daily, apples to oranges. It really isn't fair comparing a team from two decades ago to a team of today, but it sure is fun trying.

First off, let me start by admitting something: I was wrong, w-r-o-n-g. I wasn't just wrong once, not twice, but in several stories I wrote during the football season this past fall. As it turns out, the 1986 Wildcats did in fact win a playoff game. It took me a few weeks to get to the bottom of the debate, which has been growing since this year's team won two state playoff games, but I finally found a reliable source to give me the correct answer. It was an answer that proved some people in the community (including myself) wrong, and others right.

According to Jimmie Reed, the Secretary/Treasurer of the Kentucky Football Coaches Association, who I was finally able to contact Friday afternoon, "if Henry County won any game past the regular season," which they did, "then it was part of the state playoffs."

Monday morning, it was confirmed by Kentucky High School Athletic Association. Case closed.

The 1986 HCHS football team broke school records, produced some of the best athletes to ever walk onto a football field and finished its season better than any football team prior to that remarkable season. More than 20 years later, in 2007, the HCHS football squad repeated some of the same numbers, enjoyed the same success and raised the bar even higher for future teams.

So it brings us back to the question: which team was better, the '86 team or the '07 team? Here's a closer look at two of the more remarkable seasons in HCHS football history.

1986

The 1986 team, coached by Anthony Hatchell, jumped out to an impressive 7-0 record, defeating Jenkins (53-0), West Hardin (54-6), Carroll County (40-7), Eminence (26-14), Bullitt East (30-13), Frankfort (42-0) and Owen County (50-14) in consecutive weeks. The Wildcats then lost to Mercer County (20-19) in a one-point thriller, lost to a tough Anderson County squad (20-0) and closed out the regular season with a win over Kentucky Country Day (51-12), which gave them an 8-2 record.

Henry rolled past Carroll (39-16) in the District Two championship, which was also part of the playoff system. The following week, in the second round of the playoffs and the Region Two championship, Henry lost to Mercer County (28-14), which gave the Wildcats a then-school record 9-3 overall mark.

Along the way, the '86 team also won the North Central Kentucky Conference championship for the first time in school history; won the district title; led the entire state in scoring with an average of 36.6 points per game; was 10th in defense, giving up just 10.6 points per game; ended the season ranked third in Class A, behind Beechwood and Heath; and was knocked out of post-season action with just eight teams remaining. Heath later defeated Cumberland in the championship game.

Individually, Henry was led by quarterback Steve Olsen and running backs Tim Harris and Junior Ford. Harris finished the season, as a junior, with a school-record 2,422 yards, 32 touchdowns and 168 points. He led the entire state in touchdowns and points, while Eminence's Curt Higgins, also a junior, was second in the state with 25 touchdowns.

Lining up behind center, Olsen was the team's most versatile player with his accurate arm and kicking abilities. His strong right arm was evident on the baseball field as well, where he starred at HCHS, Eastern Kentucky University and later as a professional in Chicago and Kansas City, Mo.

A year after that '86 season, in 1987, Henry finished its season at 8-3 and lost to Bath County (30-20) in the district finals and opening round of playoffs. Harris, who suffered from injuries, ended his four-year HCHS career as the all-time leading rusher with 4,908 yards, and later played for the University of Kentucky.

2007

The 2007 team, coached by Chris Engstrand, started its season at 2-2 with a win over Casey County (31-6), loss to Trimble County (36-14), win over Owen County (21-6) and loss to Pendleton County (33-26). The Wildcats then won five straight games, defeating North Oldham (19-7), Eminence (29-20), Western Hills (40-22), Carroll County (42-14) and Spencer County (39-21). Henry closed out its regular season with a loss to a tough Scott squad (42-24), which left them at 7-3.

Henry, already winning the regular-season district title, won two playoff games against Western Hills (20-7) and North Oldham (15-7) to claim a playoff district title and advance to third-round action of the Class 3A State Playoffs. The following weekend, Henry lost to Paducah Tilghman (36-13), which gave the Wildcats a 9-4 overall record.

Individually, Henry was led by quarterback Hayden Yancey, running back Cody Miracle, tight end Cari Dunaway, wide receiver Travis McClanahan and middle linebacker Erick Butler. Yancey finished 187-of-362 for 2,558 yards and 23 touchdown passes, Miracle finished with 956 rushing yards off 185 carries, Dunaway caught 54 passes for 788 yards, McClanahan caught 56 passes for 826 yards and Butler, who was named to the All-State Honorable Mention Team as a sophomore, led the team on defense.

Verdict

It's a close call and there is no trump card in this situation - nothing that makes one of these teams stand out, without a doubt, from the other. The 1986 team had the best player in Tim Harris but the 2007 team was equally as talented; both had talented junior quarterbacks in Olsen and Yancey; both had second-year head coaches in Anthony Hatchell and Chris Engstrand; the '86 team scored 418 points and gave up 150 points in 12 games, while the '07 team scored 333 points and gave up 257 points in 13 games; the '86 team won the school's first playoff game, while the '07 team had the school's first two-playoff win season; and both teams were knocked out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals.

I was only five years old, lived in Campbellsburg and in Kindergarten during that 1986-87 season, so I didn't keep up with sports too much. I was too busy running away from girls during the day and chasing lightning bugs at night.

But from the stories I've heard and old articles I've read, that 1986 team sure was tough, as was the 1987 team and a few others that followed.

If I was a betting man though, I would have to give the nod to the 1986 team, 31-24. The '07 Wildcats, known to come out fired up at times, would hold a 17-14 advantage during the first half, but a healthy Harris would be too much late in the game.

Fantasy game breakdown: Miracle rushes for one touchdown, Yancey throws touchdown passes to McClanahan and Dunaway, and Matt Doane kicks one field goal for the 2007 team. Meanwhile, Ford rushes for one touchdown, Harris rushes for three and Olsen kicks one field goal to give the 1986 team the one-touchdown win.

But who knows? Maybe I have it all wrong. And the byproducts that will come from the 2007 team will surely help the Wildcats improve even more next fall. The 2008 version of the Cats will have Yancey back behind center, Butler back on the defensive side of the ball and a number of younger players stepping to the forefront.

The 1986 versus the 2008 Wildcats? We'll just have to wait and see.

Tommie Kendall can be reached at sports@hclocal.com.