Even if Great Crossing were at full strength, even if this weren't a season in which life and football are a day-to-day maelstrom of mayhem, Frederick Douglass would have been heavily favored on its home field Friday night.
The plucky Warhawks simply did what's become their trademark all season: Move the pieces on the board to play to their strengths, strap on the helmets, try to make each play better than the last, and never quit fighting.
It wasn't enough to win, certainly, but GC still left its stamp on a 62-21 verdict at “The Farm” in the KHSAA Class 5A District 6 semifinals.
“I can’t be more proud of this group of young men,” GC coach Ricky Bowling said. “We went to war and battled every snap for four quarters tonight.”
Team two for Great Crossing finished with three wins – in succession, the first such streak for the program, including two in the district – and five defeats. GC's regularly scheduled meeting with Douglass was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
As has become everyone's expectation in the program's two-year history, Kalib Perry shone brightly on both sides of the ball.
Filling in at quarterback for senior Jake Broughton, who was injured in the second half of the Warhawks' final regular-season game against George Rogers Clark two weeks ago, the junior Perry rushed 21 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns.
Perry's scoring runs covered 2, 21 and 85 yards. He was the starting quarterback in Great Crossing's inaugural season, one that included two 50-0 losses to Frederick Douglass, before moving to an all-purpose role this fall.
The state's leading tackler, Perry also picked off Samuel Cornett in the back of the end zone and returned it 30 yards to set up the Warhawks' initial scoring drive of the night.
But while the Warhawks flaunt their blue chip, NCAA Division I recruit, the Broncos (5-1) feature at least four such prospects on offense, and their highlight-film moments were many.
Dane Key and Dekel Crowdus combined for three touchdown catches from Samuel Cornett, who was 9-for-11 for 170 yards through the air.
Running behind the offensive line anchored by Jager Burton, Darius Neal added 11 carries for 83 yards and a TD.
Burton and Crowdus will play at the University of Kentucky next year.
Five turnovers ultimately doomed the Warhawks. Still, despite having given up touchdowns by way of kick, fumble and interception returns in the first quarter, it was only 26-14 after Perry's second score of the night with 2:13 remaining in the half.
That drive was fueled first by a solid kick return from Drake Byrd, then a run across midfield by fullback Kaspen Colbert, who missed the previous six games with a hand injury that required surgery. Perry also kept it to convert third-and-long prior to his encore for six.
“Each member of this team did exactly what was asked of them and more,” Bowling said. “They did it with integrity, class and maximum effort. I’m one proud head coach.”
Momentum was short-lived. Ty Bryant, who also led Douglass' defense with seven tackles, returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for a back-breaking score.
Then a hefty loss on first down, a pair of penalties and a short punt – combined with Douglass shrewdly having saved all three of its timeouts – set up the Broncos at the Warhawks' 45-yard line with 30 seconds left in the half.
Douglass' high-powered attack had scored only once to that point, but Key's sliding catch on the home sideline furnished a first down at the 27. After GC corralled a scrambling Cornett for no gain, the junior spiked the ball to stop the clock and give his team one crack at the end zone.
Again, Key was the culprit with a leaping, spinning catch near the front left pylon as time expired. Neal's two-point rush made it a daunting 40-14 differential at intermission.
The Broncos pushed back Perry for a loss on fourth-and-1 at GC's 41 to start the second half. Neal's apparent touchdown on the next play was wiped out by a holding penalty, but Crowdus paced himself perfectly on a post pattern and dove to cradle a slightly under-thrown ball for a 33-yard TD.
Another three-and-out by the Broncos' defense and a leaping grab from Cameron Dunn led to a steady diet of Neal, who punched in from two yards away to trigger the running clock with a minute to go in the third period.
GC's defense made a stand after Jeremiah Lowe's interception put Douglass back in business to start the fourth. A punt pinned the Warhawks deep, however, and T.J. Hodo smothered an errant option pitch in the end zone for the Broncos' fifth defensive or special teams score of the evening.
Perry followed with his electrifying run that was typical of the Warhawks, who fought similarly to try and score at the end of games against Scott County, Shelby County and GRC that were out of reach.
“I will reflect on this season and get better and continue to instill the values to build better men that win,” Bowling said.
Key returned the opening kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown and an ominous start for the Warhawks.
Pilot Lukacsko provided the first of two first-quarter takeaways for GC, but the Warhawks gave it back with a last-second pitch that missed its target. It wound up in the hands of Douglass' Caden Johnson, who returned it 32 yards down the visiting sideline for a score.
Seven of the Warhawks' first 10 offensive plays lost yardage and/or ended in a turnover. Isaiah Kenney punctuated that trend with a 30-yard pick six for a 19-0 Douglass lead with 6:29 left in the first quarter.
Romarion Warner's fumble recovery stymied the next GC drive after a good gain by Perry plus a personal foul moved the Warhawks past midfield.
Cornett dropped a 40-yard dime to Dunn on the next play, but Perry soon played spoiler by whisking away a tipped ball in front of the goalposts.
And GC roared to life. Perry's gains of 20 and 29 yards late in the quarter led to his successful keeper on fourth-and-goal from just inside the 2 after the teams changed ends.
Frederick Douglass answered with a quick drive that mostly featured Neal, culminating in a 15-yard strike from Cornett to Crowdus.
GC's 21 points matched Ballard for the most scored against Douglass this season. The Broncos, who had played only one quarter of a weather-shortened game since Oct. 9 thanks to a series of COVID call-offs, outscored their past three opponents by a combined score of 133-6.