Tigers will host Bowling Green, Dragons travel to Pulaski County on Friday
When it comes to Class 5-A football in Kentucky, no two teams have dominated more than Bowling Green and Pulaski County over the past five years.
A pair of Louisville-area teams will try to end that reign Friday in the state semifinals.
Fern Creek (11-2) will host Bowling Green (13-0) and South Oldham (12-1) will travel to Pulaski County (11-2) in a pair of 7:30 p.m. kickoffs. The winners will meet at 6 p.m. EST on Dec. 4 in the state final in Bowling Green.
Bowling Green has won four of the past five Class 5-A state titles and is No. 2 in the state (regardless of class) in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings. Pulaski County has reached three straight state finals, beating Graves County for the 2014 title and falling to Bowling Green in 2013 and 2015.
By contrast, Fern Creek is in the state semifinals for the second straight season after ending a 21-year drought last year. South Oldham is in the state semifinals for the first time in 24 years. Neither the Tigers nor the Dragons have ever reached a state final.
Fern Creek coach Josh Abell said he is playing up the underdog role with his squad.
“It’s like everybody knows we’re going to lose, but they’re all rooting for us,” Abell said. “I feel like the entire state outside of western Kentucky is hoping someone will take down big bad Bowling Green.”
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Fern Creek was in this same position last year but had to travel to Bowling Green and lost 21-0. Now the Tigers will get the Purples at home, where they’ve won 13 straight games.
Abell said he showed his team the film of last year’s meeting with Bowling Green as a motivational tool.
“We got our (butts) kicked,” Abell said. “You don’t want them to have that in their mind. You want to show them having success. But you also want them to re-live that feeling they had last year.”
The Purples have the state’s longest current winning streak at 25 and have a powerful offense that averages 47.9 points per game.
Senior quarterback Clark Payne has completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 3,329 yards and 39 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Senior running back Jamale Carothers, a Navy commit, has rushed for 1,159 yards and 21 touchdowns, averages 7.8 yards per carry and ranks second on the team in receiving (37 catches, 761 yards, nine TDs).
“They’re not as big as they were before, but they’re faster,” Abell said. “They have a lot of team speed. That’s been our advantage in the playoffs the last three weeks is our speed compared to the Northern Kentucky teams. But Bowling Green is very, very fast, and they fly to the ball on defense.”
South Oldham rallied from a 42-28 deficit in the fourth quarter to beat North Bullitt 45-42 in last week’s Region Three final. Dragons coach Jamie Reed is hoping the momentum from that victory will carry over to Friday’s game at Pulaski County.
“Maybe it’s our time,” Reed said. “I sure hope it is.”
Pulaski County is led by senior wide receiver Jake Johnson, whom coach John Hines is pushing for Kentucky’s Mr. Football award. Johnson has a single-season state-record 110 catches for 1,324 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s the state’s all-time leader in career receptions (385) and career receiving yards (5,237).
“He’s not just your traditional wide receiver because they’ll play him wide or at the slot or H-back and he also returns kicks and punts and plays defensive back,” Reed said. “He’s one that you put a circle around his number during the week and say, ‘Guys, if you see him on the field you better recognize where he is.’”
Reed said he’s well-aware of Pulaski County’s recent history but doesn’t want his players to be in awe of it.
“The biggest thing is that we’re not going down there to be a spectator,” he said. “We don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, we won a region championship and we’re just happy we go here.’ We’re trying to kick the door down and create some new traditions at South Oldham. It’s OK to be the new kid on the block.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
CLASS 5-A FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
* Bowling Green (13-0) at Fern Creek (11-2), 7:30 p.m.
* South Oldham (12-1) at Pulaski County (11-2), 7:30 p.m.
* Sunday, Dec. 4, 6 p.m. EST in Bowling Green