Purples close regular season with tradition-rich St. Xavier


One of the most highly anticipated KHSAA football matchups will unfold Friday evening at Bowling Green High School’s sparkling new stadium.

The Purples, the defending KHSAA Class 5A state champion, will play host to one of Louisville’s heavyweights, the Tigers of St. Xavier High School, at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

St. X (8-1) is the second-ranked Class 6A team in the weekly statewide rankings as compiled by the Associated Press. Louisville Male High School, which defeated St. X 28-21 early in the season, sits atop the Class 6A rankings with a 9-0 record.

Bowling Green (5-4), St. X coach Kevin Wallace’s former squad, seems to be hitting stride with the cooler weather. Fourth-year BGHS head coach Mark Spader, Wallace’s successor, has seen his team bounce back from a critical loss to second-ranked South Warren (8-1) with impressive back-to-back victories over Greenwood and Christian County.

The Purples improved to 32-0, lifetime, against Greenwood with a 38-8 thumping of the Gators at The Swamp. Then they blew out visiting Christian County, 37-0, in another KHSAA Class 5A, 2nd District game. That sends the Purples into Friday night’s matchup against St. Xavier and then next week’s Class 5A first-round game, this time a home matchup against Greenwood (6-3).

Spader has liked the Purples’ mental approach late in the season but believes they’ve got to take it to another level to compete against the top 5A teams in the state, such as Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School, Owensboro, Woodford County or neighboring South Warren. Bowling Green’s defense, anchored by senior nose tackle Jeremiah Lightfoot and senior linebacker Tyler Moore, has been the most consistent element of its football team.

Defense carried the Purples past Owensboro High School 17-7 in last year’s KHSAA Class 5A game at the University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field. St Xavier, Trinity, Male and Manual high schools have been the class of Louisville over the last decade or so, to the point that Wallace wo”nders about whether that’s a good thing or a bad.

“Louisville has become a place of haves and have nots,” Wallace said in a telephone interview this week. “The amazing thing about this St. X team has responded to all nds of adversity. Serious injuries. We lost our entire defensive line, the interior 3 guys, before the end of the first game.”

Wallace and Spader will probably have to err on the side of caution with injured players, and that could be complicated by forecasts of a cold, wet night in Bowling Green on Friday.

“I sure wish they could build a dome over that field, with what we’re hearing,” Wallace said with a laugh. “Bowling Green’s a great team. Solid all around. There’s a whole lot of folks (teams) that won’t schedule us or Bowling Green. You become a victim of your own success.”

Spader likes the idea of a tough non-district schedule, and it seemed to pay dividends in last year’s run to the Purples’ seventh state championship.

“Since we’ve come back from fall break,” Spader said, “our seniors have been solid, and I’ve really liked the atmosphere in the locker room. The work ethic. Now, St. X is a series we’ve been playing for years. It’s a good test for us.

“Having said that, they’re REALLY good. This should tell us a lot going into the playoffs.”

The Purples’ offense ran into a brick wall in their annual grudge match with South Warren, with the Spartans rolling to a 36-7 victory on October 1. After an open date coinciding with the school’s fall break, Bowling Green returned to the field and manhandled Greenwood 38-8 before rolling past district opponent Christian County 37-0.

Bowling Green’s offense has been a work in progress this fall, with senior Spencer Newman opening the season as the starting quarterback before yielding to talented freshman Deuce Bailey. Bailey has usually passed sparingly, completing 62 of 124 passes for 586 yards and five touchdowns. He’s rushed for 139 yards and three touchdowns while throwing three interceptions.

Junior BGHS center Austin Anderson believes Bailey and the Purples’ offense have shown significant improvement of late. Anderson is joined on the BGHS offensive line by guards Brandon Duron-Martin and Demarcus Elliott and tackles Griffin Sheffield and Bradley Gurley. Gurley, a starting defensive end, has been pressed into two-way duty with the playoffs approaching.

“I think we’ve gotten better, as an offense,” Anderson said. “We know what gonna take to get better. (Bailey) is learning how to stay in the pocket … He scrambled a lot at first. We know who we have to prepare for, for the next two or three weeks.”

Anderson referred to the likelihood that Bowling Green will get another shot at the Spartans, who last won the KHSAA Class 5A state title in 2018.

BGHS senior nose tackle Jeremiah Lightfoot is looking forward to scrapping with the talented Tigers, and seeing his former coach, Kevin Wallace, on the other side of the field. The Purples won last year’s game, 14-0, in Louisville.

“The seniors got together and talked about everything in front of us,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve had good practices, and when you practice well, you usually play well. We know (St. X is) a good opponent.

“Our secondary is really young. They had to come together, as a group. Our defensive line, we know we’ve got to get a good push up front against these guys. I think we’re ready.”