On the rise

Tyris Cobbins scores a Great Crossing touchdown at Henry Clay while Will Frazier celebrates. Great Crossing’s win in Lexington was the signature moment of a perfect 5-0 start for the Warhawks going into the Battle of the Birds.

Everybody across the state who's paid a nanosecond of attention to high school football this season recognizes that Great Crossing is one of Kentucky’s most improved programs.

The question is, how much? And the Warhawks certainly realize the answer will be heavily interpreted through what's seen under the microscope of their Battle of the Birds showdown with Scott County.

“I've been looking forward to this game for a year now,” senior offensive lineman Jake Long said. “These past two years have been such a challenge for everyone on this team. Everyone on this team knows this game is super important, and I think everyone is excited to go out here and show what we can do.”

GC (5-0) and SC (2-3) kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Birds Nest Stadium, scene of two one-sided Warhawk losses — 72-7 and 49-18 — in the newly minted rivalry.

This year's Warhawks are a bird of a different color. They're coming off a bye week after a relentless roll through the first half of the season.

Ranked among the state's top defenses in almost every major team category, Great Crossing has allowed a total of four touchdowns all season — one coming on a kick return, another against a short field. This week the No. 9 Warhawks achieved their first-ever recognition in the Class 5A Associated Press media poll.

“The last two years obviously we got a bit better, but our kids have been highly motivated all week, and they were all offseason,” GC coach Ricky Bowling. “When you have a team and a coach like Jim McKee on that side that you're going to play against, it obviously raises some tension and those types of things.”

Great Crossing's signature win was a 19-13 verdict in its initial road game at Class 6A Henry Clay. Led by junior edge rusher Oryend Fisher with one of his 8½ sacks on the season, the Warhawks stopped a Blue Devil drive in the final minute.

Week two, a 22-7 triumph over Shelby County, was the only time Great Crossing has trailed all season. The Warhawks scored a touchdown and two-point conversion just before the half and shut down the Rockets from there.

“I think it's really good,” said Kalib Perry, senior receiver and defensive back and a University of Tennessee commit. “Rolling in and getting experience against a variety of different teams, I think it allows us to be better prepared and have a better feel for this game and what we're going into, just taking it like a regular game.”

But of course the Warhawks know it's far from just another stop on the schedule. Perry was the starting quarterback as a sophomore when the Cards piled up touchdown after touchdown.

Now on a much deeper and more experienced team, Perry plays a complementary role for an offense led by junior QB Gabe Nichols (602 yards, 9 TD). 

Zackarrey Kelley and Jacob Coulter have combined for eight of those scoring grabs, many of them in spectacular fashion.

“It drives us,” Perry said of GC's past performance against SC and other proven programs. “We know what the past few years has been like for us, so we come in with a lot of hard work and the pain that we've been through. We go in expecting to win and put in our work and be a totally different team from the past few years.”

Bowling believes some of the awe factor started to go away in the second half of last year's showdown, when the Warhawks summoned a smattering of defensive stops and delivered quick strikes in the passing game to keep it from going to a running clock.

“Our kids are excited,” the coach said. “We want this game. This one's been circled on our schedule since the schedule was made. Our seniors and some of the juniors who started in 2019 against them, they remember that feeling.”

Long was part of an offensive line dominated by freshmen and sophomores that took the field in that one. He said the Warhawks have grown into their bodies.

“We're staying super humble,” Long added. “We're not letting (the 5-0 start) get to our heads. We just need to play our ball the way we have every other week.”

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

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