LEXINGTON – For the first time in three years and just the second time in program history, South Warren will play for a state championship this weekend.
After going a perfect 10-0 in the regular season and coasting through the first four rounds of the playoffs, the Spartans (14-0) will face their toughest task yet on Sunday as they meet Covington Catholic – the defending state champion – for the Class 5A KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl championship at Kroger Field in Lexington.
Saturday’s game will mark South Warren’s first state finals appearance since it captured the Class 4A title over Johnson Central in 2015.
“This team is really excited. It’s the state championship game,” South Warren head coach Brandon Smith said. “You don’t get this opportunity very often, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.”
South Warren enters the title match very familiar with its opponent, having faced Covington Catholic in last season’s semifinal round. The Spartans suffered a 43-7 loss in that Nov. 24 meeting, while the Colonels went on to claim the championship the following week with a 49-13 win against Madison Southern.
Similar to South Warren, Cov Cath also enters Saturday with an undefeated 14-0 record. The Colonels, who are riding a 29-game win streak dating back to last season, present a stout defense that only allows 9.8 points per game and wins its games by an average of 31.2 points.
Offensively, the Colonels average 394.2 yards and score 41.1 points per outing behind the dominant duo of running back Casey McGinness and quarterback Caleb Jacob. While McGinness has rushed for 2,045 yards and 34 touchdowns, Jacob has thrown for 2,643 yards and 27 TDs. Additionally, Michael Mayer – a Notre Dame commit – has 920 yards and 11 receiving TDs.
“They don’t have any weaknesses,” Smith said. “They have great players in every position and they are really well coached. Their fundamentals and technique are the best that we have seen.”
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South Warren’s success in 2018 has come largely because of its veteran-led senior class, which includes three Division I commits.
While quarterback Gavin Spurrier – a Duke commit – has led the charge with 2,494 yards and 39 touchdowns, running back Cameron Harrison has tallied 1,439 yards and 20 TDs. Clayton Bush – a Western Kentucky pledge – is the Spartans’ leading receiver with 619 yards and 11 scores to round out an explosive offense that puts up 326.4 yards.
As the Spartans’ offense receives much recognition, its defense has been heavily discussed throughout the year. A unit that gives up just 9.2 points and 111 yards, Notre Dame commit Jacob Lacey leads the charge with 74 total tackles – including 33 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and four forced fumbles. Along with Lacey, Bush has recorded seven interceptions and returned a pair for TDs.
“They have been an outstanding group,” said Smith of his senior core. “We always say, ‘leave the program in a better place than when you started,’ and this group can definitely say that.”
Kickoff for the Class 5A state championship is set for 1 p.m. CST, with the game being broadcast live (audio only) on STBNTV.com.
As South Warren will be trying to improve to 2-0 in state finals, its primary focus is ending the season on the right note.
“It would be outstanding for this group of guys, our school and our community,” said Smith.