Hopkinsville halfback Jayden Dillard carries the ball in the Tigers’ win over Logan County.

Playing football in December even in a year like this is a good thing.

Normally teams practicing in the final month of the year are preparing for a state championship. But 2020 is just a different year.

This season due to the COVID pandemic, this week is now set for the state quarterfinals. But Hopkinsville head coach Craig Clayton is excited to be playing at this point in the year regardless.

“It seems like we’ve been playing for 12 months,” Clayton said. “It’s just been a long year and we’re just in the quarterfinals. We were just talking to the kids and said, ‘you don’t how fortunate you are to be playing in December. Most people don’t get that opportunity.’ ”

The Tigers will take the field tonight with a trip to the state semifinals on the line, facing off against John Hardin at the Stadium of Champions.

Clayton and his team will be looking for its first trip to the state semifinals since 2004, in Clayton’s last season as the Tigers’ head coach the first time around.

“Hopkinsville hasn’t played in a semifinal since 2004 — my last year here,” Clayton said. “We want to try to get back to that level. A lot of it is you have to develop a mentality when you get to the playoffs. We had it here before. … If we can get it now, it’ll carry over into the next year and the years after.”

Playing against John Hardin, the Tigers will have to be ready for coach Doug Preston’s winged-T offense, something they haven’t seen to this point in the year.

Clayton has experience coaching against the offense and knows what to expect, it’s up to the players to pull through and execute.

“The thing about the winged-T is that first quarter is going to be hard,” he said. “We played against a lot of good winged-T teams when I was in Tennessee and it seemed like in the first quarter we were down seven or 14 every time. They don’t run it as well as his Franklin-Simpson teams, but first year, all the COVID situation and the lack of practice — I’m surprised they run it as well as they do.

“He’s a good coach. … They will be very formidable, well-coached, disciplined and they’re going to be ready.”

Clayton said he plans on using the air attack a little more tonight and hopes the defense continues its solid play.

“We’re probably going to throw it a little more than we have,” he said. “I don’t know that they’ve played anybody that can really throw it. They can’t simulate that in practice just like we can’t with the winged-T. I think they’re going to have a little bit of trouble with that part of the game. They’re very aggressive on defense. They’re not big, but they’re fast. I think if we can beat them down a little bit then throw over the top, I think that’s what we’re going to do.

“Defensively, we’ve just got to play smart. The winged-T has a bunch of people moving around. We just got to play disciplined. On both sides of the ball, we’ll make some adjustments as it goes along.”

Kickoff for the contest is set for 7 p.m.

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