Friday night at Birds' Nest Stadium is a T-shirt game.
Of course, that modern terminology is usually reserved for a contest in which a championship can be won, and the 7:30 p.m. showdown between Scott County (9-1) and Montgomery County (3-7) is merely a first-round playoff battle in Class 5A football.
SC is rightfully proud of its grid tradition, and coach Jim McKee is adamant about ensuring that his players recognize the success of a season whether it reaches the ultimate goal or not.
This week's showdown gives Scott County a chance to check some boxes on multiple fronts. And if a shirt slogan is needed after the expected win, may we suggest “Domination by the Dozen?”
With a victory over the Indians, the Cardinals would achieve double-digit wins for the 12th consecutive year.
It is the longest streak in the state, putting SC just ahead of Mayfield and Belfry. Only 10 schools enter this postseason with a current run of four or more seasons with 10-plus wins: Simon Kenton, DeSales, Christian Academy Louisville, Johnson Central, Beechwood, Paintsville and South Oldham are the others.
A victory also would ensure that Scott County has won at least one playoff game in all 12 of those seasons. Shelby County's 60-56 win in a 2007 shootout held SC at nine wins and sent the Cards home after round one, but it hasn't happened since.
The streaks bear a little extra weight due to the restructured KHSAA playoff system, which essentially turns the first two rounds into a district tournament.
Barring a colossal upset, Scott County and Frederick Douglass — two of the consensus top three teams in Class 5A — will meet next week in the round of 16. Douglass handed SC its only loss of the regular season, 36-0.
Players and coaches alike have made no pretense about being focused on that likely November rematch throughout the month of October. Rather than catch the Cards looking ahead, it has focused and fueled them. They routed three consecutive opponents by running clock, including a 55-0 flattening of Montgomery County, before a thrilling, 46-45 victory in overtime over 6A Ballard prior to a bye week.
SC has stayed healthy and sharp with its offensive starters rarely playing more than one series into the third quarter most of the season.
Cade McKee has completely only 24 passes all season, but remarkably 10 of them have gone for touchdowns against only one interception.
The Cards' game is built, as always, for the foul, cold weather that's in the forecast for Friday night. Philip Garner (1,242 yards, 17 touchdowns) has excelled as the prototype fullback, with Bronson Brown (907 yards, 14 TD) hitting his stride as the perimeter threat since the Douglass defeat.
Rylan Reed and Sam Daniel are the heaviest hitters for a deep defense that logged back-to-back shutouts in district play against Grant County and Montgomery County, the first time the Cards have accomplished that feat since 2014.
The inherent dangers in playing an almost immediate rematch of a one-sided district win would be overconfidence for the favorite and the nothing-to-lose mentality in the underdog.
SC already weathered the latter storm during the regular season when MoCo modified its typical Wing-T approach and took more shots downfield. After the Cards made an early stop in the red zone, knocking down a fourth-down throw in the deep flat, SC adjusted on the fly, and Montgomery County never again sniffed that level of sustained success.
If the Cardinals score early, don't allow the Indians to answer and develop any measure of optimism, it should be safe to break out some new apparel and finally look straight ahead at the game that's been on everyone's mind for six weeks.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.