DOUGLASS DEFENSE DELIVERS/Purples run into brick wall in KHSAA 5A title game, stumble to 28-7 defeat


LEXINGTON — Bowling Green High School’s football team has built its reputation around a hard-hitting defense, and the Purples offense’s ability to strike when the iron’s hot, to make something happen when it matters most.

It mattered most in the second half of the KHSAA Class 5A championship game on Saturday night at the University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field, and that’s when No. 1-ranked Frederick Douglass High School stepped to the fore.

The Broncos took over.

They bottled up the Bowling Green running game. Blanketed the Purples’ receivers. Forced sophomore BGHS quarterback Deuce Bailey to throw on almost every down.

Frederick Douglass unleashed its winning defensive formula in the second half, and the Broncos’ offense kicked it into another gear, too. Frederick Douglass stayed on the attack and subdued the Purples, 28-7, claiming the school’s first state championship since opening its doors in 2017.

Bowling Green’s magic carpet ride in postseason play came to a halt at the home of the Kentucky Wildcats, where the Purples tried everything to turn the tables on Frederick Douglass, only to run out of answers once and for all.

The Purples finished another outstanding season under fifth-year coach Mark Spader with an impressive 12-3 record, but the Broncos simply overpowered Bowling Green after halftime. Frederick Douglass limited the BGHS offense to just seven yards in the second half, and that was that.

“Frederick Douglass was everything we thought they were, going in,” Spader said. “I’m still kind of taking it in, guys … They’re loaded, up front. It’s been such a great journey, how we came together this season.

“They’re definitely a second-half team.”

That’s where the game was won, of course. Frederick Douglass completed a perfect 15-0 season with its suffocating defense, but the game was tied at 7 at the half. All five of the Purples’ first-half possessions ended at Frederick Douglass’ end of the field, and Spader thought about sending senior BGHS placekicker Colin Fratus onto the field just before halftime

Bowling Green faced a fourth-and-10 situation from the FDHS 17-yard line, well within Fratus’ range.

The Purples called a timeout with 34 seconds left in the half to talk about their options.

“We were going back-and-forth, debating what we should do,” Spader said. “I felt like we needed to take a lead, that we had something we could work with.”

Instead, the Broncos’ pass rush kept Bailey in the pocket, and his fourth-down pass sailed incomplete.

Frederick Douglass’ defense neutralized BGHS junior tailback Jevan Huddleston, which forced Bailey to improvise time and again in the first half. Bailey passed for 194 yards while rushing for another 62 before halftime, and he found Huddleston at the goal line for a 12-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter.

Fratus’ extra point tied the game at 7, and the Purples seemed to be in position to stay competitive.

Frederick Douglass’ defensive front, with several Division I prospects, was clearly the difference. The Broncos reached the KHSAA Class 5A championship game last year, only to fall 38-26 to Caden Veltkamp and South Warren High School.

The Broncos also reached the title game in 2019, only to stumble to a 14-7 loss to Covington Catholic.

“For me personally, I’ve been to two of these as a head coach,” Frederick Douglass coach Nathan McPeek said in the bowels of Kroger Field. “It feels good for me to win one because I was 0-3. It feels good to finally get over the hump, but I couldn’t do it without this coaching staff.”

Jamrrion Harkless, the massive FDHS defensive lineman committed to Auburn University, believed time was on the Broncos’ side.

“I knew this team was special,” Harkless said. “We got that done … We knew, this was the year, and we did it.”

It was a special Bowling Green team, too, as the Purples put themselves in a position to win the school’s eighth state championship. BGHS pummeled previously unbeaten Southwestern High School in semifinal play, rolling to a 47-20 victory in Somerset. Deuce Bailey’s development had been a critical factor in the Purples’ success, and the BGHS offensive line provided him good protection in the first half.

In the second half, pretty much everything changed.

“When they saw we had to pass, they brought the house,” BGHS center Isaiah Martin said. “That’s what I would have done, too. Their linebackers were quick, they can cover just about anybody.”

The Purples’ Austin Anderson, a veteran offensive lineman who became a valuable defender in his senior year with the team, was equally succinct.

“We put the work out there … We can’t say much when the game’s over,” Anderson said.

The Broncos’ Ty Bryant, who was selected the game’s Most Valuable Player, put Frederick Douglass in front 14-7 on a 1-yard touchdown run with 4:27 left in the third quarter. The Purples managed a first down on their next offensive series, but that was it.

Frederick Douglass opened the fourth quarter with perhaps the game’s most critical score, when BGHS sophomore defensive back Grayson Newman tipped a pass from FDHS quarterback Cole Carpenter at the goal line, only to watch Thomas Howard catch the ball in the end zone with 8:23 left in the game.

It was 21-7 and the narrative had pretty much been established.

Frederick Douglass’ defensive front continued to bring the heat, and Bailey, the Purples’ gifted sophomore quarterback, went down swinging. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Bailey will move on to the BGHS boys basketball team, but he’s clearly established himself as one of the premier high school quarterbacks in the Commonwealth.

Bailey completed 16 of 36 passes for 205 yards and the Purples’ only touchdown. He was sacked once while throwing a second-quarter interception, after Bowling Green reached the FDHS 30-yard line.

Bailey expressed his admiration for the Bowling Green senior class a couple days before the state championship game. Senior linebackers Davis Fant and Jake Napier were steady leaders for the Purples’ defense, while linemen Austin Anderson, Isaiah Martin and Jack Ledogar assumed similar roles for the offense.

“I met all these guys, Davis, Jake, Isaiah and Austin … when I was in sixth grade,” Bailey said. “They were in eighth grade, still playing (middle school football). I feel like the bond was always there.”

BGHS coach Mark Spader and his staff will have to retool the Purples, in the trenches, but one year removed from a .500 season, it seems Bowling Green is back on the right track.