Spartans end CovCath’s streak, cap 2018 as 5A state champions

LEXINGTON – South Warren has had a football program for just eight years.

It’s now won state championships in two of those seasons.

For the first time since winning the Class 4A title in 2015, the Spartans have captured the Class 5A KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl Championship with a 20-16 win over defending champion Covington Catholic on Sunday afternoon at Kroger Field in Lexington.

With South Warren’s victory, it also finishes the campaign with a perfect 15-0 record – its second undefeated season since also going 15-0 in 2015.

“It’s un-describable. It’s absolutely un-describable,” South Warren head coach Brandon Smith said. “I’m just so happy for those kids. They deserved it; I thought they deserved it the whole year. They did everything right – and did it from Day 1. They got what they deserved today.”

Facing a historic CovCath program that had won 29 consecutive games dating back to a 2016 loss to Fern Creek, South Warren was able to snap the state’s longest active streak. While outgaining the Colonels 291-261, the Spartans also forced three turnovers and limited the Colonels to converting just 4 out of 13 third down conversions and going 0-for-2 on fourth down.

As it finished with 291 total yards, 237 came in the air as South Warren senior quarterback Gavin Spurrier – a Duke commit – completed 17-of-30 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns in his final high school game and was named the Most Valuable Player.

“I feel incredible,” Spurrier said. “We’ve been working for two years to do this. This year, in particular, we’ve been working so hard. I’m so glad my team did it. I’m so blessed that I moved here and so fortunate. I love my team.”

Along with Spurrier, six different receivers – led by Tanner Gallahair’s 83 yards – each finished with catches as the Spartans averaged 4.5 yards per play. Behind Gallahair, Jantzen Dunn had two catches for 60 yards and a TD, while Caleb Lloyd recorded an 11-yard TD reception.

Along with that group’s performances, senior running back Cameron Harrison rushed for 80 yards and a score in his last game in the Black and White.

“I could not be more proud of them,” Smith said of his senior class. “They’ve done everything right and they deserve it. They’re great kids on the field, off the field. They’ve done what they’ve supposed to really their entire career and this is a fitting way to finish it off.”

It took some time for South Warren’s explosive offense to find the end zone.

After turning the ball over in the red zone on their first drive, the Spartans made up for it on their second series. Putting together a five-play, 64-yard drive that took 2:09 off the clock, South Warren delivered the first punch with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Spurrier to Dunn on 3rd and 11 to lead 7-0 at the 2:08 mark.

It didn’t take long for the Spartans to strike again, as Spurrier soon connected with Lloyd for the 11-yard score just before the end of the quarter. Spurrier received the snap and quickly fired a pass to his receiver, who reeled in the catch in double coverage in the middle of the end zone to cap the five-play, 36-yard series.

“We came out slow last week against South Oldham,” senior wide receiver and WKU commit Clayton Bush said. “A big part of our game plan was to come out fast. We have guys like Gavin Spurrier throwing it around and just awesome guys back there to do it. It was awesome to do this together.”

Eldar Dervisevic’s PAT missed right, but South Warren still had a 13-0 advantage after 12 minutes of action.

The Spartans’ defense forced their second turnover in the second quarter as MJ Boley intercepted a pass from Covington Catholic quarterback Caleb Jacob, but they weren’t able to turn it into points on the other end. South Warren drove 27 yards to the CovCath 43 but couldn’t convert on third down and had to punt.

Despite not being able to capitalize on the takeaway, the Spartans didn’t allow the Colonels to score on their next possession and took a 13-0 lead into the break.

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“We knew they hadn’t been punched in the mouth – as far as we know all season,” senior defensive tackle and Notre Dame commit Jacob Lacey said. “That’s what we came out and did. We punched them in the mouth. They responded, but we held it together and bent but didn’t break.”

South Warren outgained CovCath 219-56 in the first 24 minutes and averaged 6.8 yards per play. Spurrier had completed 12-of-19 passes for 205 yards and a pair of TDs at halftime.

South Warren continued to play aggressive in the ensuing half – but Covington Catholic wasn’t going away easily.

After its defense blocked a Covington Catholic punt and returned it all the way down to the Colonels’ 10, the Spartans needed just two plays to score on a two-yard TD run by Harrison. Harrison’s lone score of the day capped the 55-yard series and pushed South Warren’s lead to 20-0 at the 9:36 mark of the third quarter.

“You can’t wish for it to happen and you hope for it to happen. If you want it to happen, you have to go make it happen – and I thought they did that from the very beginning,” said Smith of South Warren’s big start. “They’re a great team, and we told them that they would not quit. They were going to have to battle ‘till the end … and they did that.”

CovCath’s first score of the contest came at the 8:37 mark of the period, as it used a three-play, 81-yard drive that ended with a 58-yard TD pass from Jacob to tight end Michael Mayer – Lacey’s future teammate at Notre Dame – to cut its deficit to 20-7. The Spartans took that same lead into the final quarter.

Covington Catholic continued to claw back. Trailing by two scores, the Colonels forced a South Warren turnover on downs and used a speedy one-play, 77-yard drive that lasted just 13 seconds that was highlighted by an explosive TD run from Casey McGinness. McGinness took a handoff from Jacob and sprinted untouched down the middle of the field to make it 20-14 with 10:34 remaining.

“We had to buckle down and do some things to win the game,” said Bush. “That’s all we came here to do. We’re not here to be second place to anybody.”

The Colonels drove back into the red zone and had an opportunity to score with three minutes left, but the Spartans’ defense wouldn’t allow it as they instead forced a turnover on downs.

While South Warren wasn’t able to get anything going on its next series and was pinned at its own two-yard line, it decided to run into the back of the end zone for a safety instead of punting and giving CovCath good field position. Although the safety made it 20-16, the Spartans were able to keep the Colonels from scoring, got the ball back and took a knee in victory formation.

“We came out, we played hard, we started early – and I’m just so glad,” Spurrier said.

South Warren 20, Covington Catholic 16

South Warren –        13    0    7    0 – 20

Covington Catholic – 0    0    7    9 – 16

First quarter

SW – Spurrier 43 pass to Dunn (Dervisevic kick), 2:08

SW – Spurrier 11 pass to Lloyd (PAT missed), 0:08

Third quarter

SW – Harrison 2 run (Dervisevic kick), 9:36

CovCath – Jacob 58 pass to Mayer (Gronotte kick), 8:37

Fourth quarter

CovCath – McGinness 77 run (Gronotte kick), 10:21

CovCath – Safety on South Warren, 1:08

Tyler Mansfield@ByMansfield

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