There are four teams remaining in the 2018 KHSAA Class 5A Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl – and one of them is South Warren.
The Spartans – who were also one of those four teams still playing at this time last season – booked another trip to the semifinals with a dominating 44-7 win over Owensboro on Friday night in the 5A, Region 1 championship at Spartan Stadium.
“I think it’s the seniors,” South Warren coach Brandon Smith said. “I just think we’ve got a senior group that’s been outstanding with leadership all year long. They had a great week of preparation. They keep everybody focused every week and they’ve really led the charge. I’m proud of ‘em.”
Still undefeated at 13-0 on the campaign, South Warren continued playing at an overall high level and its defense shut down an Owensboro offense that put up 401 yards last week in the second round against Bowling Green. The Spartans limited the Red Devils (10-3) to just one touchdown and kept them uncomfortable from start to finish.
Offensively, senior quarterback Gavin Spurrier led the way for the Spartans, throwing for three touchdowns and nearly 300 yards. Along with Spurrier, senior running back Cameron Harrison finished with over 100 all-purpose yards and a pair of TDs as the two had successful outings in their final games at Spartan Stadium.
“It means a lot,” Spurrier said. “Last game on the field, super important. The seniors last year ended up losing on this field, so we knew we had to come get a dub. Getting the trophy was awesome, but that’s not the end goal. We’re just glad to do it here.”
South Warren will now travel to South Oldham (12-1) next Friday for a semifinal matchup in Crestwood. Kickoff time is TBA.
South Warren fired on all cylinders from the start.
After Owensboro punted on its opening drive, the Spartans put together a nine-play, 80-yard drive and recorded the game’s first touchdown with a 10-yard pass from Spurrier to WKU commit Clayton Bush. Spurrier connected with wide receiver Caleb Lloyd for a 37-yard gain on the previous play to set up the score.
“On our home field, we feel like we’re the best team playing,” Spurrier said. “We just started real quick. We jumped on them early, we stayed consistent and we just kept scoring throughout the night. It ended up being a great victory for us.”
South Warren quickly doubled its lead, scoring on an eight-yard run from Harrison to make it 14-0 at the 4:20 mark of the first quarter. Similar to the first series, Lloyd reeled in a big reception – this one for a gain of 18 yards – from Spurrier to put the Spartans in the red zone and set up Harrison’s first TD.
Spurrier struck again in the first, leading a lengthy eight-play drive downfield that was capped by an 11-yard TD toss to Chidi Afam. The quarterback’s second score of the night pushed South Warren’s lead to 21-0 after 12 minutes of action.
Spurrier and the Spartans carried their dominant play into the ensuing period.
“We wanted to make sure we moved the ball early,” Smith said. “We wanted to get first downs, move the ball and establish that our offense could move it – and they turned it into points. We thought if we could get them behind that’d help us on defense because they’re extremely explosive on offense.”
On the first play of its opening second-quarter drive, South Warren was already back in the end zone as Spurrier connected with Tanner Gallahair for a 43-yard touchdown. Spurrier stepped back and launched a deep ball to his receiver, and Gallahair made the catch and crossed the pylon to make it 28-0 at the 10:10 mark.
Trailing by four scores, Owensboro was finally able to answer.
Putting together a successful five-play, 76-yard drive, the Red Devils found the end zone on a 52-yard pass from Will Warren to Imonte Owsley. Warren – a strong, stocky quarterback – connected with the flashy receiver for a 12-yard gain on the previous play before recording the touchdown to cut Owensboro’s deficit to 28-7 with 5:21 remaining in the half.
“We took it as a challenge,” said Smith of trying to contain Warren, Owsley and Owensboro’s offense. “It wasn’t hard to sell. We showed them the film and they looked at the stats. That’s a really good offense. They have three or four guys that can flat play. They took that challenge and ran with it. They wanted to come out and show what they could do.”
The Spartans immediately answered as Gallahair fielded the ensuing kickoff from the Red Devils and returned it 85 yards for a quick TD. Making the catch at the 15-yard-line, Gallahair found an opening and broke loose downfield for the big return – and he gave South Warren a 35-7 lead at the break.
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Harrison scored his second TD with under a minute remaining in the third quarter. Taking a handoff from Spurrier, Harrison ran in from 10 yards out to extend the South Warren advantage to 41-7 entering the final frame.
Up by 34, the Spartans took advantage of their comfortable lead and were able to cruise through the remaining 12 minutes and earn another trip to the semifinal round.
“We think we’re prepared,” said Spurrier. “Last year we were here. We’re going to work hard at practice this week. We know what it takes, and we’re trying to make that state championship run.”
Owensboro – 0 7 0 0
South Warren – 21 14 7 3
SWHS – Spurrier 10 pass to Bush (Dervisevic kick), 8:17
SWHS – Harrison 8 run (Dervisevic kick), 4:20
SWHS – Spurrier 11 pass to Afam (Sanders kick), :45.8
SWHS – Spurrier 43 pass to Gallahair (Sanders kick), 10:10
OHS – Warren 52 pass to Owsley (McFarland kick), 5:21