If you build it, they will come

All was quiet at the “Bird Cage” stadium last Saturday while a soccer game went on next door, but the community’s new mecca for high school football is expected to attract 4,000 to 6,000 spectators Friday night when Scott County and Great Crossing meet for the first time.

Conjecture. Chatter. Braggadocio. Predictions. Rumors. 

Call it what you will, the relationship (we’ll save “rivalry” for when it’s a title officially earned) between Scott County and Great Crossing football has seen and heard it all, two and even three years before the teams ever played a game.

That game is finally here.

The Cardinals and Warhawks will christen their new “Bird Cage” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, with the unique wrinkle, for now, of a district game to open the season.

Scott County enters its initial season of Class 5A ranked first and second in coaches’ polls by the state’s two largest daily papers, and in its customary top 10 spot regardless of class by MaxPreps. The Cards are coming off a trip to the KHSAA 6A title game, their fourth in the past 15 years under coach Jim McKee.

Great Crossing jumps into the fire with a roster dominated by sophomores and freshmen, a veteran coach (Paul Rains) with championship credentials in his own right, and the excitement of a new school and state-of-the-art facilities.

Based on that comparison, you might correctly surmise that SC is a prohibitive favorite. Truth be told, the Cards will take that distinction into most of their games this fall.

Here’s a breakdown of five trends to watch as we look forward to the beginning of a new era in city gridiron lore.

Offensive diversity 

You don’t need a primer or a thick playbook to know what Scott County will bring to the turf. 

The Cards have rushed for 4,000 or more yards in seven consecutive seasons, and there’s no reason to think it won’t become eight. Senior halfback Bronson Brown headlines a group that also flaunts senior fullback Philip Garner and the combined power and speed of underclassmen Montago Jones, Jeremy Hamilton and Campton Martin.

McKee said in the preseason he’s tired of disparaging comments about the Wing-T, and frankly anyone who would grumble about that offense is foolish and shortsighted. It undoubtedly has been a match for the blue collar program and its identity for more than two decades, and that should continue for as long as the hall of famer continues to coach.

SC occasionally chooses to throw deep after lulling opponents to sleep, of course, and Cade McKee has an exciting target in senior classmate Micah McClave who can go up and get it.

Great Crossing has built its rookie reputation around its contrasting style. The Warhawks will mix the pass and run out of the spread offense, one that is popular in the high school and college games but perhaps challenging to start from scratch.

Sophomore quarterback Kalib Perry has some playmakers around him, notably former Scott County JV standout Bryce Hearn. The key will be staying upright behind an offensive line that features four sophomores and only one senior. 

Handling adversity

No matter the score, Great Crossing has a golden opportunity to learn and prove something about itself in its inaugural game. If Scott County puts up big plays and jumps out to an early lead, how the Warhawks rally around it and stick to their offensive and defensive game plans is worth watching.

In each of its two scrimmages, Great Crossing gave up early scores against Madison Southern and Bourbon County before toughening in the second and third quarters.

Obviously this week’s opponent is in a different stratosphere, but attitude, body language and persistence still matter in the building of a program. It’s crucial for GC to take those haymakers without flinching, make some positive headway and prove that the Warhawks belong in 5A varsity football. 

Crowd control

The number of people in the stands likely will make a few stomachs churn and heads spin, and that probably goes for both teams.

When asked what is the largest crowd he’s ever seen watching him, GC sophomore lineman Tre Combs estimated about 700 spectators at an out-of-state camp.

Scott County might have played in front of the 5,000-or-so expected Friday in last year’s state final. Scattered about the Kroger Field stands, though, that number was less imposing than it will look and sound directly on top of the field at this game.

If a few snaps are fumbled or a flag or two fly early, on either side, it will be understandable. High school football players north of Texas and Florida don’t experience this kind of attention every week. 

Pick, scoop, swat

In its opener the past two years against North Bullitt, games in which SC was a similarly solid favorite, the Cardinals put points on the board with defense and special teams plays to pull away early.

Every player loves a chance to score in non-traditional fashion, and games in which a team is learning a new offense and/or punting often are a prime place for it. Great Crossing must guard against such plays and at least challenge Scott County to do most of its scoring with long drives. 

Don’t get hurt

Both coaches are well aware that this is the beginning of a long season, and while the final score might become the final answer to a trivia question, it isn’t the be-all, end-all.

SC and GC have bigger fish to fry, whether it’s chasing a state title or seeking consistency and finding a way to eke out that first win, or two, or three.

The Cards probably won’t push their starters any longer than is necessary. And for the Warhawks, any portion of the game that is sophomores vs. sophomores probably gives them a better chance to gauge their real progress. Above all Friday night, celebrating football in the county while keeping everyone healthy is tops on the agenda.

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

Recommended for you