Ground and pound

The running game is expected to take center stage when Scott County and Great Crossing collide in the playoffs Friday night.

After Friday night, there’s a strong chance nobody will need a sales pitch to characterize the Battle of the Birds as a football rivalry.

The third regular season clash between Scott County and Great Crossing confirmed what any objective bystander already knew: That there’s more than enough football talent in Georgetown and surrounding communities to produce two terrific, competitive teams any given year.

Now, one side’s feelings will be hurt when the other ends its 2021 season. That means there’s more than enough fuel to make every battle in the immediate future the talk of the town.

“I can’t wait. Hopefully we come out with the (win),” GC two-way standout Cayden Allen said. “It’s going to be a good game and a battle.”

GC (8-2) and SC (5-5) collide Friday at Birds Nest Stadium in the opening round of the KHSAA playoffs. It’s a rematch of the Cards’ 14-6 district win Oct. 1, their third consecutive triumph in the series.

After wide margins of 65 and 31 points in the two previous meetings, everything about this season’s first encounter lived up to the hype and left both sides thirsting for more.

“I think if we come out more as a unit on offense, I think we have our feet under us more now,” SC offensive lineman Jonathan Thompson said. “I think we can handle them more easily this time.”

Scott County isn’t accustomed to entering November with a .500 record. Then again, the Cards’ schedule was built for its Class 6A championship heyday, probably not a 5A outfit with 14 underclassmen in the starting lineup.

Last week’s 41-40 loss to Lexington Catholic was SC’s third by four points of fewer against a top-25 team in the state, on the heels of similar verdicts against Bryan Station and Ballard.

“We ought to be better than what we are for a record standpoint, and that all starts with the head coach,” SC coach Jim McKee said. “The head coach has got to put the kids in a better position to win at the end of games.”

McKee noted that he once had a 9-1 team lose in the first round (2007), while teams farther down the district ladder (2005, 2018) pulled off road upsets.

“It’s really irrelevant. Everybody’s backed into a corner in the playoffs, every team,” McKee said. “This is it, so if you want to continue your season, you’ve got to come out of that corner swinging and fighting.”

Both teams flaunt a different look on the offensive side of the ball than they did the first time around.

Noted for its big-play receiving corps early in the season, GC has adopted more of a power rushing attack with Allen and a strong supporting cast in recent weeks. It’s an approach focused on finishing drives, such as the three ill-fated marches into the SC red zone that ended in Warhawk turnovers a month ago.

“Early in the season, we were more successful with our big plays,” GC coach Ricky Bowling said. “Teams have shut that down a little bit. The past couple weeks, we’ve decided we want to sustain the run and sustain drives.

“We’ve still got some guys that are continuing to progress throughout the season. I like where we’re at on both sides of the ball. We’ve got kids that are younger that have developed and are playing key roles at times for us.”

Swarming, gang-tackling defenses stood tall on each side with takeaways and stops at the goal line in the regular-season showdown.

The Cards served up two shutouts and held two other opponents to six points out of their five wins, while the Warhawks’ ability to get into the backfield has sabotaged strong passing and rushing opponents alike.

“Our defense has probably gotten a lot more physical, and our offense, they’ve been able to move the ball a whole lot more,” SC defensive back Andrew Willhite said. “It’s still challenging, because they have a lot of weapons they can use that they didn’t use against us the first time. We just try to make few mistakes and play fast, and everyone gets to the ball.”

Great Crossing rallied from a 14-0 deficit to defeat Collins, 26-21, last week, limiting the Titans’ vaunted passing attack to seven completions in 26 attempts.

Stopping SC’s vaunted Wing-T is a different animal.

“Obviously it’s going ot be a good game like it was last time. They’ve progressed a lot, and I think we have too,” GC two-way starter Peyton Harris said. “Offensively I know they’re doing a lot better in that category. Our defense is still the same studs. I think it will be another tight game, and hopefully we can come out on top this time.”

The Cardinals have employed a new look to their age-old approach the past two weeks, with senior Luke Colvin moving to the fullback slot and piling up a total of more than 300 total yards in those contests.

“The line has gotten a lot better at blocking the right person and blocking with an attitude, blocking with a confidence about ourselves, pushing people out of the way and making holes for our backs,” Thompson said. “We have a couple new plays, and we’ve definitely established ourselves mentally.”

Both teams believe it’s their time to stand alone as the county’s shining light moving forward, likely into a second-round clash at Frederick Douglass next week.

“Defense is where it starts. I was told at a very young age, defense wins championships and offense sells tickets,” Allen said. “We have to stop thejr dive. They don’t really throw the ball too much, but their run game is lethal.”

“I’m really thinking that if we can get past the second round, we can make it to state,” Thompson said of SC. “It’s a real option, We just have to pull together as a team and have confidence.”

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

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