“Tradition” isn’t merely idle talk when football coaches gather their team in a huddle for motivational purposes.
It probably matters more than any other sport on the high school gridiron, where necessary numbers are highest, nagging injuries are most frequent, and instant gratification is usually non-existent.
The programs that venture deep into November every year are the ones that earn extra practice and more visibility, not to mention unique experiences that can never be taken from hearts and minds.
It’s no coincidence that teams in the KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl often get there again and again. Consider that all 12 of this year’s finalists have at least one state championship to their credit.
Adding two classes in 2007 only further separated the wheat from the chaff. In the previous 11-year history of Class 6A, only four schools have won a state title: Trinity (an amazing eight), St. Xavier, Scott County and Male.
Lafayette, Dixie Heights, Meade County, Pleasure Ridge Park and Simon Kenton are the only other schools to play in the game.
Fans of Saturday’s finalists, SC and Male, are well acquainted with what awaits them in the 8 p.m. kickoff at Kroger Field in Lexington.
How many of the details do you remember from the four previous times SC made state-game history? Here’s a walk down memory lane to help get ready for kickoff:
1975: High drama — Some state championship teams require either a thrilling comeback or a dynamic defensive stop at the finish to claim their championship. Scott County needed both to seal the Class 2A title with a 22-20 triumph over Middlesboro.
The Cardinals trailed 7-0 after three quarters in a defensive struggle, with Jay Welch’s quarterback sneak providing the lone touchdown. Things looked bleak when Billy Hamblin scored on a 3-yard run to give Middlesboro a 14-0 lead early in the fourth.
Back stormed coach Bill Wilson’s crew, though, starting with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Tim Mitchell to Carl Collins. Tommy White’s point-after kick cut the lead in half.
SC took the lead in improbable fashion on a hook-and-lateral play from Collins to Charles Jackson that covered 51 yards. Jackson then returned the favor with a two-point pass to Collins for a 15-14 lead.
Johnson padded the lead with a 58-yard run, and White’s kick meant Middlesboro needed both a touchdown and the two-point conversion to force overtime. Welch’s 12-yard pass to Joey Bowling produced the first half of that equation, but the Cardinals successfully defended the second pass in the closing seconds to seal the win. It capped a triumphant season in the first year after what had been a somewhat contentious merger between former rivals Scott County and Georgetown high schools.
2004: New experience — There were good years and lean seasons in between SC’s first two state-game appearances. Scott County’s steady climb after Jim McKee took over the program in the late 1990s culminated with a Class 4A playoff run, punctuated by wild wins over Henry Clay and Madison Central, and a trip to the big show.
It was a learning experience for SC, which went down 35-0 at halftime before it finally got on the board in a 49-9 loss to St. Xavier.
Victor Anderson was unstoppable that day for the Tigers. His runs of 61 and 3 yards put St. X in front early, and a 34-yard scamper made it 21-0 early in the second quarter. Justin Brown tacked on two short TD rushes before intermission.
Jesse Hawkins’ 22-yard field goal broke the shutout. Rodney Haddix, today the head coach of Findlay Prep basketball in Nevada, provided the Cards’ big highlight with an 84-yard TD catch from Cody Andrews.
2011: Knocking on the door — Scott County turned a corner after some early playoff exits later in the previous decade. A regional title game loss in 2008 and state semifinal appearances in 2009 and 2010 set the tone for the following year’s run, capped by a 16-14 semifinal win over Boone County at Toyota Stadium.
The Cards ran into a Trinity juggernaut, though, and the Shamrocks stormed to a 62-21 victory.
SC struck first on an 18-yard run by Dieries Dumphord and a PAT from Palmer Ward. Trinity scored the next five touchdowns, four from Dalyn Dawkins, before Scott Daniel’s 95-yard kick return invigorated the Cards midway through the second period. The Rocks poured it on with three straight TDs through the air, two to future Louisville star James Quick.
Clay McKee’s 29-yard TD pass to Daniel in the fourth quarter was a foreshadowing of future glory.
2013: Perfection achieved — It was a journey no Scott County will forget. Undefeated and unchallenged until playoff wins over Henry Clay (regional final, 37-34) and Male (semi-state, 24-10), SC had only Meade County standing in the way of a historic 15-0 season.
Cold weather and trouble holding onto the football conspired against the Cards early. SC found its footing on a TD plunge by Kevin Claussen in the second quarter, then answered a QB sneak by Meade’s John Wilson with a 13-yard connection from McKee to Daniel for a 14-6 lead at the half.
Wilson ran it in from eight yards out and added the PAT to tie it with 4:34 to go in regulation, but Scott County wouldn’t be denied. Daniel caught a quick screen from McKee and lunged to the pylon with 40 seconds remaining to end a 38-year championship drought.
Five years later, the tradition burns on.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.