Scott County football sits in relative silence waiting for Friday night's Battle of the Birds, occasionally wondering aloud if strength of schedule and past performance against Great Crossing count for something.
The Cardinals have heard volumes about the Warhawks' undefeated start and watched one of GC’s highlights achieve national acclaim. And they've seen statewide perception of their own program slide a bit below the norm, mostly in the aftermath of one-sided losses to state title contenders Frederick Douglass and Franklin County.
It's enough — almost — for an SC assistant coach or two to play a “we're the underdog” card without tongue in cheek to motivate Cardinal players. Let the record show most of them aren't buying it.
“I think it's going to be the same as every other year, honestly,” senior running back Campton Martin said. “We worked our tails off all week. I think we know the outcome. I think there's a little bit of false hope on the other side.”
Those who aren't part of the mass of humanity at Birds Nest Stadium may listen to the game at news-graphic.com or watch on NFHS Network starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Computer rankings such as Calpreps and Massey still maintain Scott County (2-3) as a slight favorite over Great Crossing (5-0), although nowhere near the 65 and 31-point final margins of the first two seasons.
Other Cardinal players sounded as if they are teetering that fine line between self-assurance and knowing they will need to step up and meet the challenge of a neighbor that is better equipped than ever.
“I get more and more excited every year,” senior linebacker Luke Colvin said. “It's going to be proving a lot of people wrong. That's what’s got me excited. No disrespect towards them. They came out firing this year. There's no room to talk towards them. I just think we're going to open a whole lot of eyes. We've played some really good teams.”
“I'm expecting a battle,” said senior Jeremy Hamilton, a front-line player in all three phases who has scored seven all-purpose touchdowns this season. “Both teams have changed as each school has grown through the years, and Great Crossing isn't what they used to be, 5-0 this season. So we've got to keep our heads up and can't underestimate them.”
Scott County's resume wields plenty of bold print in its own right.
The Cardinals shut out Lexington Class 6A rivals Lafayette and Paul Laurence Dunbar. SC also led Bryan Station — currently No. 4 in 6A — by two scores early in the fourth quarter before tumbling to a 25-21 defeat.
Last week, the Cardinals' defense allowed only one touchdown to Douglass' vaunted offense until late in the third quarter. The Broncos ultimately wore down the Cards for a 35-0 final tally.
“It's been a fun season for us so far, because it's been real challenging. I think you've got to look at every roadblock in life and try to make it the best you can,” SC coach Jim McKee said. “Truthfully, 95 percent of the teams in the state that played our schedule would be 2-3.”
SC's offense scored on all eight possessions in the 55-0 shellacking of Dunbar, with a different Cardinal reaching the end zone each time.
One of the keys to Friday's game is whether or not the Cardinals' traditionally vaunted rushing attack — led by Montago Jones, Hamilton and Martin — can grind it out consistently against a Warhawks' defense that has given up a grand total of 35 points in its five wins.
“The teams we've played and the teams they've played, it's apples to oranges,” Martin said. “It's really different. The losses we've endured this season, it's helped us to get where we are today. We're a much better team than we were the first week.”
Hamilton, who helped contain Douglass' high-D1 target Dane Key last week, will be charged with keeping a deep Great Crossing receiving corps in check.
Andrew Willhite, Elijah Adams and Isaac Krebs lead a gang-tackling SC defense that has been rugged against the run since the opening-night struggle against Franklin County.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.