In the belly of the beast

Austin Barnett has been over the 100-yard mark in each of Scott County’s past two football games, joining Brice Fryman in that category.

High school football coaches are careful not to make assumptions and presume victories until games are played on the field.

Writers and pundits, despite a predilection for making predictions, recognize that anything can happen in a game involving 16-to-18-year-old boys.

All that being said, the question Friday night when Scott County travels to Paul Laurence Dunbar is not whether or not the Cardinals will win. The pressing matters are by how much, and how quickly can coach Jim McKee give his starters the rest of the evening off?

Scott County (6-2) is already 7th District champion for the eighth consecutive year. Its next home games will be state playoff affairs. Dunbar (0-7) has been on the business end of five shutouts. A running clock minimized the indignity against four of the Bulldogs’ first five Class 6A opponents.

Dreaming up our weekly list of five trends to watch is a dubious assignment after that rousing introduction, but duty demands it. Here are the pertinent details as the Cards go for a quick, clean knockout and look ahead to next week’s top-10 showdown at Pleasure Ridge Park and beyond.

NO LOOKING AHEAD

Do (and think) as we say, Cards, not as we do. It is easier said than done. 

Consider that on the weekend of Sept. 15 and 16, while Scott County tested itself against Ohio state champion Cincinnati LaSalle, Dunbar was playing its closest game of the year. The Bulldogs dropped a 22-21 verdict at McCreary Central — a Class 2A program. There is no comparison between SC’s performance and strength of schedule and that of this week’s district foe. That doesn’t mean this game isn’t dangerous on multiple levels.

SC needs to stay sharp. The Cards have scored on 48 of their 56 full possessions against Kentucky opponents, a remarkable 85 percent clip. They have cut out the unforced errors (fumbled snaps, penalties) that plagued the offense early in the season. Games such as this one can lull a good team back into bad habits, and the Cards can’t let that happen with what lies ahead.

Also, the more quickly SC can get the game to a 36-point lead and a running clock, the sooner key players can get out, rest up and prepare for the bigger fish left to fry.

NO COMPARISON

Dunbar is still 96 net yards away from 1,000 for the season. Scott County nearly reached that milestone in its past two games against Frederick Douglass (567) and Henry Clay (423).

Alex Bard is the Bulldogs’ top rusher with 345 yards. Nearly half that total came against McCreary Central. That game       produced Dunbar’s first points of the season after consecutive shutout losses to Pulaski Southwestern, George Rogers Clark and Tates Creek.

Frederick Douglass and Lafayette also blanked Dunbar, which got back on the board last week in a 48-6 loss to Henry Clay.

NO STONE UNTURNED

With the proverbial “nothing to lose,” Dunbar is likely to clean out the playbook, so Scott County must be prepared for anything.

Last year’s 73-18 win was a classic example. The Bulldogs kept it close for a quarter with the help of a 74-yard pass on a fake punt to set up a score.

Dunbar’s season will be on the line next week in what is essentially a playoff elimination game against Bryan Station. This week, in a matchup that doesn’t look like fun, don’t be surprised to see them try to have some.

NO END IN SIGHT

Scott County has won 11 consecutive games in the series. Aside from a 14-7 win in Lexington two years ago that stands out like a neon sign, no game since 2007 has seen a closer final margin than 35 points. Dunbar’s past two wins over SC both came in 2005 — 40-35, then 23-22 in a playoff rematch that went to overtime. That also was Dunbar’s last winning season. The Bulldogs finished 10-3.

NO WEAK LINKS

Scott County has found answers to some of the questions early in the season. 

Blocking has improved, from the Bryan Hudson-led offensive line all the way to wingback Payton Brown. A running game that was heavily dependent on Brice Fryman has seen fullback Austin Barnett come of age with consecutive 100-yard games. And the Cards’ passing game has been deadly.

The Cards look like a contender to finish their season up the street at Kroger Field, and that is bad news for Lexington’s most struggling team.

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

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