Friday night’s clash of unbeaten, ranked football teams at Birds Nest Stadium shapes up as a clear battle of which team can impose its will.
Scott County has scored a total of 100 points in its first two wins. DuPont Manual has allowed 18.
Both teams like to control the clock and make the other team pay for miscues with momentum-seizing, soul-crushing, endless drives.
Between those traits and the dominant red colors in each team’s motif, heck, even the home fans might have a hard time telling the teams apart if those flashing LED stadium lights make the eyesight blurry for a second.
Fittingly, both teams will be 2-0 at the 7:30 p.m. Friday kickoff. Scott County is ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press Class 5A poll, while Manual occupies No. 5 in this week’s corresponding 6A vote.
Here’s a closer look at some of the trends that might determine which team’s “0” won’t have to go:
Keep it balanced. Both teams embrace a run-first philosophy that should delight old-school fans. The Crimsons have successfully spread out their attack among three primary rushers, JuWaun Northington (22 carries, 101 yards, two touchdowns), DeAaron Robinson (17 for 77) and Ramont Townsend (14 for 51).
Scott County tends to find the defense’s itch and chooses to scratch it repeatedly with whoever is the hot hand out of the three-pronged Wing-T. Last week, the Cards leaned heavily on senior fullback Philip Garner, who now has rolled up 388 yards and six touchdowns. Ideally, they would like to counter his relentless presence with the home run threat of Bronson Brown, who averages 13 yards per carry. Jeremy Hamilton, Montago Jones and Campton Martin also give SC the opportunity to attack from all angles.
Hold your water. The bugaboo last week for Scott County, other than 14 penalties for 118 yards that sabotaged many drives, was key two-way players cramping up. A cooler forecast and SC’s rapidly developing depth should alleviate that factor this week, although it bears watching if the Cards are put in the pressure cooker of a close game for the second straight week.
Endurance also is a factor for Manual, because the top defensive players for the Crimsons also start on the other side. Townsend and Northington have combined for 22 tackles, while one of the top receivers, Eli Blakey, has three stops for loss.
Both teams dug deep in the fourth quarter last week, though. Manual rallied from a two-score deficit over the final seven minutes to topple Fern Creek, 22-18.
Defense delivers. Manual shut out Louisville Central, 7-0, a week after the Yellow Jackets had some success running the ball in their annual scrimmage at Scott County.
SC’s young (in terms of varsity starting experience) defense continues to improve with every quarter.
Leadership has come not surprisingly from middle linebacker Rylan Reed and Cardinal back Sam Daniel, whose 45-yard interception return for a touchdown led last week’s highlight reel. Tasian Stakelin also is a big hitter in his second season as a starter. But new names such as Cheney Harris, Jacob Carretti, Alex Patton and Cade Tackett are emerging, as well.
After proving vulnerable to a couple of long pass plays at Lafayette, the SC secondary adjusted nicely in a 28-19 win.
Surprise attack. Neither team will throw the ball often, having aired it out a grand total of 26 times the first two weeks.
The Crimson’s Zach Recktenwald did toss the game-winning TD against Fern Creek, however, and SC’s Cade McKee has shown great confidence in putting it up and letting the rangy Micah McClave go get it.
Whichever team can drop a play-action bomb after lulling the other side to sleep could gain an upper hand Friday.
City life. He’s not shy about being happily rid of 6A giants Trinity, St. Xavier and Male, but SC coach Jim McKee loves to test the Cards against the Louisville public high schools.
Scott County put Manual and Ballard on this year’s schedule after a home-and-home with Pleasure Ridge Park the past two seasons, and the Cards played Central in the final preseason contest for the 15th consecutive year.
Those teams bring a toughness that helps Scott County grow and get ready for some of the challenges it will face in October and November. Given that many Lexington 6A non-district schools have shied away from facing SC in recent years, this game is an important building block to the Cards’ schedule.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.