Iron sharpens iron

Scott County junior lineman Bryan Hudson, left, has been an integral part of the Cardinals’ domination on both sides of the line of scrimmage in a 5-0 start against Kentucky opponents this season. The Cards will try to keep that streak intact Friday against arguably their toughest in-state opponent to date when Frederick Douglass (5-1) visits Toyota Stadium for the first-ever game between the programs.

With a Lexington television station’s camera rolling two years ago, Jim McKee infamously characterized his Scott County High School program as Kentucky’s version of the Dallas Cowboys.

The intent of the comparison was only lost on opponents who wanted to take it out of context and use it as bulletin-board fodder. 

His implication that the Cardinals are the program opponents love to hate and live to beat was spot-on. If anything, the New England Patriots or Alabama Crimson Tide might have been a more apt modern analogy.

And the spirit of those comments may never feel truer than when Frederick Douglass (5-1) rolls into Toyota Stadium on Friday night for a showdown against Scott County (5-2). Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Both teams are 2-0 in a five-team district. The winner will clinch that regular-season title and the multiple home playoff games that accompany it.

Scott County has owned some or all of that title for the past seven years and nine out of 10, which explains the new school’s enthusiasm to make a statement from the outset of a new rivalry.

From preseason comments to the Lexington Herald-Leader by its coach — Georgetown College product Brian Landis — that Franklin Douglass set “one particular team up north” as a model, to the now-customary social media chatter, it is obvious that the Cards are on the Broncos’ minds.

Does that suggest that SC is in Douglass’ head? Or do the newcomers have both the psychological and physical game to turn the bluegrass gridiron scene on its ear?

It’s almost time to find out. Here is our weekly look at five important factors to help you get ready for the game:

City’s best, combined

Scott County lineman Nick Lolli jokingly called Frederick Douglass “the Lexington all-stars” when asked about the matchup, but there is plenty of truth in that assessment.

Whether through redistricting or transfer, the Broncos wound up with numerous players who would have been expected to play significant roles for the other five Lexington public schools.

Douglass wound up with quarterbacks from both Henry Clay (Montaveon Bean) and Paul Laurence Dunbar (Gavin Bugg). 

Running back Jefferson Harkless (458 yards, eight touchdowns) sat out last season at Dunbar with an injury.

Top receivers Micah Lowe and Haiden Hunt started their careers at Bryan Station along with defensive standouts Romel Croley and Frederick Jewett. And leading tackle Jaylin Bybee was part of Lafayette’s run to its second consecutive appearance in the Class 6A state final a year ago.

Getting all the Broncos on the same page was a work in progress, as might be expected. Frederick Douglass traveled to perennial 2A power Danville and got stomped, 36-0, out of the gate. But the Broncos bashed Tates Creek, 49-22, one week later, one of only two defeats to date for the Commodores. 

Wins over Lafayette and Madison Central followed. Other than a fluke touchdown when fullback Christian Benton of Bryan Station picked up a fumble and advanced it 90 yards for a touchdown last week, the Broncos haven’t allowed a point in the past eight quarters, beginning with a 52-0 shutout of Dunbar.

Finding a balance

Harkless and Bean have allowed the Broncos to control games on the ground. Like Scott County, Frederick Douglass throws selectively and productively, as evidenced by Bean’s eight touchdowns against two interceptions.

The challenge for SC is to stop the running game on third-and-short and get off the field. The Cards did that in last week’s 57-28 win over Henry Clay but were not as successful the previous week in a 49-12 verdict against Bryan Station. Frederick Douglass hopes to control time of possession the way Bryan Station did, then do a better job finishing drives.

Scott County’s offense rolled last week with twin 100-yard games from Brice Fryman and Austin Barnett.

strength of schedule

Frederick Douglass’ arrival appears to have further watered down a Lexington landscape that historically has only had room for one strong contender at a time. The Broncos seem to have replaced Lafayette this year.

As a preemptive strike, Scott County went out of state for games against Archbishop Moeller and LaSalle of Cincinnati. Now is when those experiences will start to pay off. The Cards absorbed two tough losses, but they faced a level of competition that leaves them not at all awestruck by the Broncos.

Take it away

The turnover battle always comes to play in a hard-fought district battle. Now would be a good time for the Cards to return to last year’s brisk rate of takeaways.

SC showed signs last week, when Sam Sutton recovered a fumble and Zane Wilson picked off a pass. Those were only the eighth and ninth turnovers in the Cards’ favor this season.

Of course, it’s easy to make the case that a blocked field goal, a blocked punt return for a touchdown and a punt return for a score should count toward that total. SC checked off all those boxes against Henry Clay.

What’s at stake

It’s senior night and the final home game for the Cards’ upperclassmen. If all goes well, though, it is far from their last appearance on the Toyota Stadium turf.

The winner and district champion likely secures home field through the regional final (third round of the playoffs). Friday’s showdown is about more than a t-shirt, hat or bragging rights.

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

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