Conner Cooper knew what he and Bowling Green needed to do on their final drive.
“Win,” the junior quarterback said. “That was the bottom line. We’ve gotta win. The whole team was looking at us. It was on our shoulders. I think we did what we needed to do.”
Tied 13-13 with crosstown rival South Warren with their season on the line, the Purples put together a successful series and scored a late touchdown with just 44.2 seconds left to escape with a 20-13 win over the Spartans in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs at El Donaldson Stadium.
Bowling Green (8-3), which captured the Class 5A, District 2 championship with the victory, led 7-0 after the opening quarter and 13-6 at halftime. South Warren evened the scoreboard at 13-all with a touchdown with two minutes left, but the Purples delivered the final punch to come out on top and extend their season.
The Purples will travel to Crestwood next Friday to face South Oldham in the quarterfinals. The Spartans finish their campaign at 10-2 overall.
“It feels great,” Bowling Green coach Mark Spader said. “We get another week of life. We made things messy – it might be one of the sloppier big games I’ve been around – but what I say about this team all the time is they battle, battle, battle – we just do some stupid things.
“If we intend on continuing this journey, we’ve gotta clean those things up and get things going in the right direction.”
Bowling Green struck first near the midway point of the first quarter with a 47-yard touchdown run from Javeius Bunton. Bunton took the handoff from Cooper and broke loose to reach the end zone and put the Purples up 7-0 at the 8:11 mark.
While both sides struggled offensively throughout the rest of the quarter, Bowling Green was able to score again early into the second to add to its lead.
“We’ve been working towards this the whole year, so just seeing all our hard work and dedication pay off boosts our confidence,” Cooper said.
Taking advantage of a bobbled snap on a South Warren punt attempt, the Purples started their drive at the Spartans’ six-yard line and needed just one play to score on a 6-yard TD run by Cooper. Dalton Major’s PAT was no good, but Bowling Green still led 13-0 at the 10:25 mark of the second.
South Warren finally found an offensive spark late in the half.
While Caden Veltkamp – who had missed the past six games with an arm injury and made a return Friday – threw a 17-yard completion to Chidi Afam and Kobe Martin ran for a gain of 15 to put the Spartans at the Purples’ 35, Luke Burton took a direct snap and crossed the pylon from a yard out to cut Bowling Green’s lead to 13-6 at the break.
“We never really thought Caden would be back, but he was really, really determined to play again and he kind of led the way on that and rehabbed his butt off,” South Warren coach Brandon Smith said. “He got approval from everyone – the doctors, his parents, me – and I’m really proud of him for that. To come back from that injury in the amount of time that he did and come out here and perform, that takes a lot of courage. I was really proud of him.”
Bunton had rushed for 55 yards on nine carries through a half, while Martin was up to 64 yards on 14 attempts. Bunton finished with 65 yards on 13 carries, and Martin tallied 147 yards on 30 carries.
Cooper finished with 32 rushing yards while completing 4-of-18 passes for 30 yards. Veltkamp went 12-of-25 for 74 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
The Spartans tied things at 13-all with just 2:14 remaining as Veltkamp connected with Jantzen Dunn for a four-yard score, but the Purples had the last call with JaVyan Collins’ three-yard game-winner.
“All I knew is that we had to win the game at all costs,” Collins said. “I give (the credit) all up to my big boys up front. I just knew I had to keep fighting, pushing and get it in. Bottom line.”
Added Bunton: “It feels great to get a team win with my guys. “It’s onto the next one.”
Bowling Green 20, South Warren 13
SWHS – 0 6 0 7 — 13
BGHS – 7 6 0 7 — 20
BG – Javeius Bunton 47 run (Dalton Major kick), 8:11
BG – Conner Cooper 6 run (Kick missed), 10:25
SW – Luke Burton 1 run (Kick blocked), 2:06
SW – Jantzen Dunn 4 pass from Caden Veltkamp (Eldar Dervisevic kick), 2:14
BG – JayVan Collins 3 run (Major kick), 0:44.2