You have to see the Great Crossing football team in the flesh to appreciate how much it has improved this season.
That's probably true of every program, but it's a particularly necessary guideline for assessing the Warhawks, who were done no favors by their first-season schedule.
Taking on neighborhood powerhouse Scott County right out of the chute was a two-year plan. Administrators admittedly wanted to strike while the iron was hot and the paint was fresh, promoting the cash cow of a “Battle of the Birds” to christen the teams' new, shared stadium.
It certainly wasn't in the best interests of Great Crossing, which pieced together its first-year team with mostly freshmen and sophomores, plus a few upper-class players who had yet to crack the starting lineup across town.
Nor did a series of games of second-division Class 5A and 6A foes such as North Bullitt, East Jessamine, Woodford County and Paul Laurence Dunbar make a wealth of sense. Although in fairness to the schedule makers, finding schools with open dates and a desire to travel farther than across a county line or two is no picnic.
“This schedule’s just been a bear,” GC coach Paul Rains. “The average teams are not average.”
Great Crossing finally had a chance to pick on someone its own size Friday night, meaning more in terms of physical stature and current strength than pure enrollment.
There wasn't any choice in the matter, since Montgomery County is a district opponent. But home in week eight on a relatively cool evening was a perfect opportunity for the Warhawks to show how they've grown.
GC simultaneously enjoyed its best offensive, defensive and special teams showings in the program's brief history, falling 20-7 at Birds Nest Stadium.
“We’re having more confidence in our tackling and more confidence in our blocking,” Rains said. “The young guys are getting older.”
Rains had enough of his own faith in that developing offensive front to unveil a retooled offense Friday, one that featured more Wing-T and I-formation elements than the spread attack the Warhawks tried to embrace from spring workouts.
There was still room for electrifying sophomore quarterback Kalib Perry to do his thing, including a 16-yard touchdown run and an 80-yard jaunt that was mostly erased due to a penalty behind the play.
For the first time all year, though, the Warhawks had a between-the-tackles presence to balance it out, led by Levi Whalen and Kaspen Colbert.
“We kind of set (Perry's scoring) play up, and he made a great, athletic move,” Rains said. “Kalib is a heck of an athlete. He’s special, and we’ve got some more young players that are going to be special when it’s all said and done.”
Perry, who was invited for a visit to the University of Kentucky on Saturday, had a puncher's chance to help GC land its first victory when the Warhawks took over down two scores with nine minutes left.
He guided Great Crossing inside the Montgomery County 35 before a penalty and then a strip sack — the GC sideline felt it was an incomplete pass — sealed it for the Indians.
Nick Huff had two long touchdowns and two big gains to set up the third score for MoCo, which otherwise had to nickel-and-dime against a stubborn GC defense led by senior linebacker Trent Allen and Perry at safety,
“Trent played a heck of a football game. Kalib played a heck of a football game,” Rains said. “We competed, and we were three or four plays away from it maybe being a different outcome, so that’s all you can ask for.”
Fellow district foes Montgomery County and Grant County entered the weekend's slate with a combined five wins against Class 2A and 3A opponents.
Friday's result showed that the Warhawks, had they been served up a similarly manageable schedule, likely would have a win or two by now.
And with Montgomery having routed Grant, 48-16, one week earlier, you can be sure GC is using the transitive property and calculating that it has a chance when the Warhawks visit the Braves.
“We’ve got Frederick Douglass (this) week, which is a horse of a different color, but the week after that we’ve got Grant County,” Rains said.
The winner of that one will advance to the first round of the playoffs and a dubious reward — likely another chance to face top-seeded Douglass.
On McKee and keys
Never one to miss out on a good analogy and put football in real-life perspective, Scott County coach Jim McKee compares the Cardinals' return to normalcy the past two weeks to the resolution of everyday nuisances we can all understand.
“Here's the problem. You (reporters) record everything on this phone. You're going to lose this phone at some time in the next two weeks, and you're going to run around your house and say, 'Dang it, where's my phone?' Then you're going to find it, and you're going to have great relief,” McKee said. “And the first thing you're going to say to yourself is, 'Man, I'm not losing my phone again.' Same thing with your keys, your wallet and your remote control.
“So that's what happens. The problem is, you do lose the remote again, and what we have to guard against is we can't forget about what it felt like. We have to keep up with our keys for seven weeks.”
The missing keys in this scenario: A 36-0 loss to Frederick Douglass on Sept. 27, a stigma the Cards will have to get out of their system between now and a likely playoff rematch Nov. 15.
Asked if he issued reminders to his team every day, McKee replied, “I'd say 10 times a day. And I think the No. 1 person to remind is myself.”
Wins over Ryle (57-21) and Grant County (56-0) looked even more impressive than the Cards' dismantling of their first five foes, the team's best start since 2014.
“We're 7-1. Four of our victories have been against 6A opponents. Five of our victories have been running clocks. The team that we lost to has more Division I offered kids than any team in Kentucky,” McKee said. “So I'm not going to look at the kids and say the season's a failure right now. That's a silly mindset. That's the one thing you have to guard against.
“You're going to lose. You're not going to win every game. The thing we have to focus on is giving a great effort next time.”
Montgomery County (3-4 overall, 2-0 district) returns to Birds Nest Stadium on Friday to face SC (7-1, 2-1). With a win, the Cardinals would lock up the No. 2 seed in the district playoffs and host the Indians again on Nov. 8.
Great Crossing has the aforementioned David vs. Goliath encounter at Douglass this week.
“We're going to surprise them,” Allen said with a smile. “I think we're going to score.”
If that happens, it would give GC one-up on SC, not to mention every other Douglass opponent except Tates Creek. Douglass has served up six shutouts in its seven wins, including five straight.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.