Sporting the state’s longest winning streak at 29 games, the Bowling Green High School football team will play in its second straight state final Saturday.
Not bad for a squad that returned just four starters from last season.
“I thought we had a chance, but I wasn’t sure how well we’d play up front on either side of the ball because of our lack of size,” coach Kevin Wallace said. “As the season wore on, we began to have more hope than we started with.”
The Purples (14-0) — No. 5 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings — will face No. 12 Cooper (13-1) at 4 p.m. EST for the Class 5-A championship at Houchens Industries/L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green.
They haven’t lost since falling to Christian County 14-10 in the second round of the 2010 playoffs. The winning streak includes four victories over rival Warren Central and two each over perennial powers St. Xavier, Lexington Catholic and John Hardin.
“Inside of that (streak) we’ve won a lot of football games against good football teams,” Wallace said. “It’s hard to stay that consistent over that period of time.”
The Purples returned three starters on offense and one on defense from last year’s team that whipped Anderson County 55-3 in the state final, but a solid junior class has pushed them back to the top of Class 5-A.
Wallace said the juniors have lost just once since they were seventh-graders, falling to Owensboro as members of Bowling Green’s freshman team in 2010.
Wide receiver Nacarius Fant is the top college prospect in the group. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound Fant has scholarship offers from Illinois and Western Kentucky and has hauled in 67 catches for 1,250 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.
“Whatever ‘it’ is, he’s got it,” Wallace said. “He has unbelievable instincts for how to play, and he loves to win.”
Junior Devin Hayes is the latest in a series of accomplished quarterbacks for the Purples, joining Trent Steelman (senior quarterback at Army), J. P. Jackson (senior baseball player at Cincinnati) and Scooter Hollis (freshman wide receiver at Columbia).
Wallace said Hayes recently scored a 31 on the ACT and probably will join Hollis in the Ivy League after he graduates. Hayes (6-2, 175) has passed for 2,544 yards and 38 TDs as the Purples have transitioned away from their traditional run-heavy attack.
“We had to do that given our schedule,” Wallace said. “We haven’t been able to run against some of those bigger and stronger teams.”
FINALS FACTS & FIGURES
* Trinity and Highlands have 21 state championships each, tied for the most in Kentucky history, and will try to add to that total this weekend.
Trinity, which will face Pleasure Ridge Park on Saturday, is shooting for its third straight Class 6-A title and its 10th championship in the past 12 years.
Highlands, which will play Collins in today’s Class 4-A final, will try to become the first team to win six consecutive state crowns. Boyle County won five in a row from 1999-2003.
The 12 finalists have won a combined 64 state championships, with Trinity and Highlands joined by Mayfield (eight), Newport Central Catholic (four), Central (four), Belfry (two), Caldwell County (two) and Bowling Green (two).
* Four teams will be playing in the finals for the first time: PRP, Cooper, Collins and Fairview.
Two of those programs are quite new. Cooper (located in Union) opened in 2008 and Collins (Shelbyville) in 2010.
* PRP, Bowling Green and Fairview are the only undefeated teams left in Kentucky, all entering the finals with 14-0 records.