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One of the top pass-and-catch combinations in the state has come a long way, both on and off the football field.
On the field, Shelby County seniors Zach Shipley and Michael Barry are among the statistical leaders at their positions in Class 5A.
Shipley, the Rockets’ quarterback, is averaging 259 passing yards per game (which ranks first in 5A), and Barry, a wide receiver, is averaging 111.3 receiving yards per game (which ranks second in 5A) – numbers that are significantly up from last season.
Off the field this dynamic duo, who lead Shelby County into its Homecoming game at 7:30 tonight against Class 3A Henry County at Robert Doyle Stadium, are equally as inseparable (so much so that Barry, who sat out Tuesday’s practice because of sickness, blamed Shipley for the illness.). It wasn’t always that way, though.
“We hated each other in middle school,” Barry said.
That’s because Shipley went to West Middle, and Barry attended East.
“I didn’t know what he looked like [with his football helmet off], but I still hated him,” Barry said.
“I remember he wore one blue sock and one yellow sock [during games]; that was the stupidest thing ever,” Shipley said.
Things changed when the two entered SCHS. Although they played football and basketball together as freshmen, they didn’t become fast friends until the spring, when both ran hurdles for the track team.
“We’ve done everything together ever since,” Barry said.
The two moved into Shelby’s starting lineup together as sophomores – the year the school split to form Collins High School. They developed an immediate rapport.
In his first start under center (in the fifth game of the season at Bullitt East), Shipley completed three passes, one to Barry. In Shipley’s second start he completed six passes, two – including a 12-yard touchdown pass – to Barry. The two connected two more times, including for another TD, in the Rockets’ lone victory that season, over Southern. The following week, in Shelby’s season finale, Shipley completed 15 of 22 passes, and Barry hauled in seven (from Shipley and Tyler Phillips) for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
The two seemed to grow from there in Shelby’s opener in 2011, a loss at LaRue County, last year. They hooked up three times for 58 yards and a touchdown.
That, though, would be the only time all season that they would connect for a TD as they battled injuries. Shipley hurt his throwing shoulder in the Rockets’ first preseason scrimmage, and Barry missed several games in the middle of the season because of a hamstring injury.
“We couldn’t practice throwing all week until game day,” Barry said.
That meant that despite having an inexperienced offensive line, Shelby County had to try to rely on the run in most games.
“Last year teams packed the box, and we were done,” said Shipley, who finished the season having completed 68 of 146 passes for 838 yards (a 46.6 percent completion rate), with five touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while Barry had 20 catches for 388 yards and the aforementioned score. “Last year we never planned on passing. This year we started working on it in January.”
That preparation has paid off early this season for the Rockets (2-1), who are two questionable calls away from being unbeaten.
In their season-opening, 28-0 victory over LaRue County, the Rockets – who are a “take what the defense gives us” team – ran 38 times (for 193 yards) and passed just 12 times (Shipley completed four passes, including one for 15 yards to Barry).
In its second game, though, Shelby faced an Anderson County team that was intent on stopping the Rockets’ running game. That, in turn, left just a single defensive back on Barry, allowing Shelby to open up its aerial attack.
In that 35-34 loss, Shipley completed 26 of 44 passes for 415 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those TDs – including a 98-yarder (“I literally threw it as far as I could; he just ran under it,” Shipley said) – were to Barry, who had 10 catches for 196 yards.
Afterward Anderson County Coach Mark Peach called Barry the “best receiver I’ve seen in person, or on film, this year” and admitted that he made a mid-game adjustment to bring a safety over to defend Barry, too.
Then, last Friday night at Jeffersontown, the host Chargers started with the same defensive strategy as Anderson County. The result was similar for Shelby.
Shipley complete 15 of 24 passes for 295 yards and four more touchdowns. Once again three of those scores were to Barry, who finished with six catches for 123 yards. Two of those TDs were “jump balls,” in which the 6-foot-1 Barry had to out-leap defenders for the football. The latter of those came on the final play of the third quarter with the Rockets leading, 21-14.
“Number two [J-town defensive back Richard Deloney] gets up and gets both hands on it, but Michael just pulls it out of his hands and comes down with it,” Shelby County Coach Todd Shipley recalled. “Zach’s made some good throws so far this season, but Michael’s made some great catches.”
Added Zach Shipley: “The throw wasn’t too great, but I trust him, so I just threw it up.”
Through three games Shipley has completed 45 of 80 passes (56.3 percent) for 777 yards with nine touchdowns and only one interception, including 41 of 68 for 710 yards (355 ypg) and eight touchdowns in the last two games, and Barry has 17 catches for 334 yards and six touchdowns – including 16 receptions for 319 yards (159.5 ypg) and six touchdowns against Anderson and J-town.
But the two haven’t done it alone.
“Our offensive line is just so much improved,” Shipley said. “It’s not like it’s me and Michael throwing and catching. I can stay in the pocket all day.”
The Rockets’ new-found passing success should, in turn, open up their running game, as it did late against J-town, and even more of their offense.
“We can line up in the same front and be triple-option, a [straight] run team or a spread team,” Shipley said. “But let’s just hope everybody is stubborn…and they keep stacking the box.”
Henry County at Shelby County
Robert Doyle Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WXLN-FM (93.3)
Records: Henry County 2-2, Shelby County 2-1.
Coaches: HC – Jason Spencer (2nd year, 4-11); SC – Todd Shipley (13th year, 58-77).
HC key players: QB-RB/DB Brock Fish (No. 5); RB/LB Mason Fish (No. 23).
HC results so far this season: Lost at North Oldham, 38-7; beat Walton-Verona, 27-24; lost at Woodford County, 42-6; beat Bellevue, 13-6.
SCHS stat leaders: QB/S Zach Shipley 45-80-1-777 9 TDs; WR/DB Michael Barry 17-334 6 TDs & 3 INTs; RB/LB Chase Manica 16-93 2 TDs; TE/LB Deric Hyman 17 tackles; LB Nick Waurio 17 tackles.
Last season: Shelby County won 35-13. Shipley ran for two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion and the Rockets turned a pair of Wildcat fumbles into TDs.
What Coach Shipley says: “A team like Henry County scares you because when you throw the football, one bad play could be a touchdown…We have to stop the running game. [Number] twenty-three and [number] five are brothers and the both run the ball well. “[On offense] we’ve got to keep the ball off the ground. We’ve got to have good snaps.”