THE SPOILS COME TO BOWLING GREEN/Bailey’s skill set, Purples’ relentless defense overwhelm Cooper, 28-14, in KHSAA Class 5A state title game



LEXINGTON — Bowling Green High School’s football team was back. Back where it all started.

The University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field.

The Purples made it to the promised land last season, in pursuit of the eighth KHSAA state championship in school history. They ran into a defensive line that could have passed for an NFL quartet, or certainly a Power Five foursome. Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School broke a 7-all tie at halftime to trample the Purples, 28-7, in the KHSAA Class 5A title game one year ago.

“We had to get that bad taste out of our mouth,” junior BGHS quarterback Deuce Bailey said late Saturday night.

That’s what the Purples did, on a cold, rainy night in the Bluegrass.

Bailey’s quick-strike ability and the Purples’ big-play receivers scored the game’s first 14 points, and Bowling Green never trailed in the wet, sometimes wild conditions. Bailey passed for 199 yards and three touchdowns as the Purples stormed past Cooper High School, 28-14, before a paid crowd of 6,299 at Kroger Field.

The rain started falling harder in the second half, and that made for a handful of anxious moments for the Purples. Ultimately, though, their defense was again the great equalizer. Something Bowling Green established in the opening week of the playoffs, a 48-6 victory over Owensboro’s Apollo High School on November 3 at El Donaldson Stadium.

“We mirrored each other a lot coming into this game,” Bowling Green coach Mark Spader said when it was over. “(Cooper’s) defense grew as the weeks went on, and ours did as well. Ours just played better tonight and gave us a chance to win.”

Bailey’s presence certainly didn’t hurt, either, but the Purples’ defense evolved into an aggressive, gang-tackling unit, allowing just 43 points in five postseason games.

Cooper coach Randy Borchers saw it up close and personal on Saturday night.

“We had two costly turnovers, early in the game, that kind of put the momentum away from us,” Borchers said. “We had to play from behind … We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Or around it, either, because an offense that tries to go east and west against the Purples oftentimes finds itself going due south.

BGHS junior defensive back Grayson Newman pointed out that Deuce Bailey and the high-scoring Purples offense carried the team through the first six or seven games of the season. That includes the Purples’ 36-29 victory over archrival South Warren on October 13, when Bowling Green stunned the Spartans on the tried-and-sometimes-true “hook-and-lateral” play.

Bailey got the ball to sophomore BGHS wideout Trevy Barber on a quick sideline pass to the left side, and Barber caught and pitched the ball in what seemed like one movement.

Barber got the ball to the Purples’ Trey Graham, who scampered down the left sideline to complete the 40-yard scoring play with six seconds left.

The Purples started to look like a team of destiny that night, but that didn’t become a reality until they started shutting opponents down defensively. Which is what they did after their regular-season finale, a 27-12 loss to Louisville’s St. Xavier squad, coached by former BGHS head coach Kevin Wallace.

Bowling Green finished its eighth state championship season with a 12-3 overall record. Cooper also closed its season at 12-3.

“Much like us, they played better defense as the year went on,” Spader said. “It’s not as if we’re going against a pushover out there. I mean, it was tough to gain yardage.”

Junior BGHS defensive back Grayson Newman put it this way:

“The defense had to pay it back,” he said.

Bailey made it happen in the first half, finding senior tight end Matthew Klein for a 31-yard touchdown pass on the Purples’ second series of the night. The next time Bowling Green got its hands on the football, Bailey fired a 43-yard touchdown pass to Trevy Barber, who got behind the Cooper defense on a delayed post pattern.

That made it 14-0. The Purples led 21-7 at the half.

And then the rain started falling harder.

So, too, did Cooper quarterback Cam O’Hara and the Jaguars’ offense.

Cooper had a slight edge in time of possession, and O’Hara had to throw the ball 47 times to try to keep his team in the game. He was sacked six times — sophomore linebacker Montrez Trussell had two of them, and senior lineman Jordan Green added 1.5 sacks — while throwing for 220 yards and both of the Jaguars’ touchdowns.

“What a night! … We had a lot of adversity out there tonight,” Purples coach Mark Spader said. “If you followed us this season, you know we’ve been a resilient team. The first game, we gave up 700 yards of offense. Our defense wasn’t very well respected at the beginning of the year …

“That’s why I love high school football.”

Sophomore running back Jaxen Smith scored the final two Bowling Green touchdowns, one on an 8-yard pass from Bailey in the left flat and later on a 1-yard run with 3:35 left in the third quarter. The Purples had a huge edge in special-teams play, as Cooper twice muffed punts from Bowling Green’s Braden Widener.

Widener, an all-state soccer player, too, hit all 71 of his extra-point attempts on the season, while going 8-for-10 on field goals. The Purples’ Montez Trussell also got a piece of one of O’Hara’s six punts, a kick that only covered 18 yards late in the first half.

BGHS quarterback Deuce Bailey was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, even after throwing three interceptions. The officials did everything they could to keep the footballs dry, but they seemed to get heavier, and more slippery, as the game progressed.

“Every few snaps, the ball was wet,” Bailey said. “You can’t make excuses. You have to deal with it.”

The Purples’ defense dealt the final hand of the season. A straight flush. With a little flash. Bowling Green’s pursuit of the school’s eighth state championship had become a reality.

“It’s just pure joy,” senior BGHS linebacker Wick Dotson said via text message as the Purples’ buses were approaching Bowling Green. “I’m not really sure I can explain it …”

Micheal Compton of the Bowling Green Daily News told Spader and his players at the postgame press conference that the Jack Harlow concert at WKU’s E.A. Diddle Arena had been stopped so Harlow, a rap artist from Kentucky, could tell the crowd on hand of the Purples’ triumph.

Spader shot Compton a bemused look and said he’d heard of Jack Harlow, but Deuce Bailey just smiled, shook his head and said, “that blows my mind.”

This just in.

The Purples are going to be loaded for bear in 2024, too.