There are 48 teams remaining in the Kentucky high school football playoffs, and Bowling Green is one of those teams.
The Purples (8-3), still alive in the chase for the Class 5A 2019 UK Orthopaedics/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl championship, hit the road Friday to Crestwood for their first-ever meeting with South Oldham (11-1) in the quarterfinals. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CST.
“We’ve gotta treat it like our last game, Bowling Green senior safety Evan Spader said. “We’ve just gotta take it one week at a time. We can’t get ahead of ourselves and just have to focus on South Oldham for now.”
Bowling Green, which advanced to the quarterfinal round after eliminating crosstown rival South Warren last week with a 20-13 win, will face a South Oldham team that has reeled off 11 straight wins after dropping its season opener 6-0 to Christian Academy-Louisville on Aug. 23.
The Dragons are led by an explosive offense – a unique one – that averages 367 yards and 45 points per game. Defensively, South allows just 137 yards and 6.3 points per outing.
“We know they’re a fine team,” Bowling Green coach Mark Spader said. “They’re well coached. Coach (Jamie) Reed does a good job up there with them. They’re kind of back to the scene of the crime as well – they advanced last year and were eliminated by South Warren. They’ve got a lot of those kids back. They do a tremendous job of running their Veer offense with a number of guys contributing there. Defensively, they’ve got (senior defensive end) Luke Clark on the edge of their defense and a lot of other contributors. They’re a hard-nosed gang, and we know we have our work cut out for us.”
Looking at the Dragons’ offense specifically, it is a Veer system that is powered by a dominant rushing attack – one that has racked up 3,113 total yards, an average of 259.4 per game.
Senior running back Keaton Martin leads the team with 138 carries for 1,111 yards and 22 touchdowns, while fellow senior JT Benson has rushed for 667 yards and 10 TDs on 30 carries. Senior quarterback Anthony Pierce has 408 yards and five TDs on 46 attempts, and seniors Ethan Bednarczyk and Josh Carter and junior Ethan Snider have each scored three TDs.
“Nobody runs (the Veer offense) much,” coach Spader said. “It’s hard to recreate it in practice. Even more than that, it’s hard to get your kids to be disciplined and playing that assignment football snap, after snap, after snap. They don’t leave their comfort zone there – it’s what they do and they’re gonna continue to do it. We’ve gotta be disciplined and be focused and try and create some adversity for ‘em and hopefully capitalize on that.”
The Purples, who enter the contest allowing 227.4 yards and 11.4 points, are focused on forcing South Oldham into quick drives and getting the Dragons’ offense off the field.
On the offensive end, Bowling Green – averaging 280 yards and 31 points – knows it must take advantage of every offensive series it receives.
“We need to be able to get ‘em off the field defensively,” coach Spader said. “Can’t allow ‘em to go on those eight, 10, 12-minute drives where they’re eatin’ clock, and give our kids plenty of opportunities to get out there. I feel like if we get our kids in space, they can make some plays against ‘em, but they have to be out there to do that.”
While Bowling Green is one of the state’s final 48 teams, it is one of only eight still alive in Class 5A. It’s quite an accomplishment, especially considering that the Purples had to beat South Warren for a second time this year to reach this point, but they knew they couldn’t celebrate that win and reaching the quarterfinals for too long.
“It’s great, but we’ve gotta take it with a grain of salt,” said Evan Spader. “Obviously, we were excited to win that game, but we couldn’t celebrate for too long because we knew we had another game this Friday.”