South Warren squares off with Dragons tonight in KHSAA playoffs


South Warren High School’s football team knows what it’s up against Friday night.

Simply put, the methodical South Oldham Dragons.

The No. 1-ranked Spartans (11-1) play host to South Oldham (9-3) in a KHSAA Class 5A regional playoff game, with the winner only one victory away from championship weekend at the University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field.

South Warren coach Brandon Smith is emphasizing taking advantage of each and every offensive possession, because if the Dragons have their way, they’ll hold the ball for l-o-n-g, time-consuming drives, thus shortening the game and giving the Spartans precious little time to establish control on what figures to be a cold, bone-chilling night.

“They’ll milk as much time as they can,” South Warren defensive tackle Jake Jackson said. “This is our last home (playoff) game, for sure. We definitely want to start fast. Every game, from now on, is our last guaranteed game.

“We have to play like that.”

South Warren scaled one of its primary obstacles last week, completing a two-game sweep of Bowling Green High School with a 28-3 victory in chilly, extraordinarily windy conditions. Senior running back Kobe Martin rushed for 155 yards and two second-half touchdowns as the Spartans knocked off BGHS, which had eliminated South Warren from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

Brandon Smith said the Spartans could still “technically” play another home game in semifinal play, if South can take care of business tonight, but “it’s highly unlikely.”

That gives the Spartans a lot more incentive heading into the South Oldham game. South Warren has several three-year starters, all of them seniors, but outside linebacker Evan Lee was lost for the season with a broken collarbone in the first half against Bowling Green. Drew Givens, a junior, moves into Lee’s spot in the South Warren defense.

“Their defensive line is outstanding,” Smith said. “That’s the strength of their team, overall. They do a great job of ball control on offense.”

South Warren quarterback Caden Veltkamp and his senior teammate, veteran wide receiver Avril Bell, are expected to sign with their hometown school, Western Kentucky University, in December. Bell had two touchdown receptions in the Spartans’ dismantling of Bowling Green last week, while the 6-foot-5 Veltkamp has been a picture of consistency in his final season on the South Warren campus.

In 12 games, Veltkamp has completed 137 of 204 passes for 2,054 yards and 24 touchdowns. He’s been intercepted only five times while rushing for 71 yards and seven scores.

South Oldham hasn’t yielded more than six points in each of its previous six games, and the Dragons have outscored their 12 opponents by the impressive total of 410-156. Quarterback Devlin McGee has completed 91 of 170 passes for 1,318 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Kyle Smythe and Jack McCubbin give the Dragons an impressive 1-2 punch in the running game. Smythe has rushed for 1,013 yards and 14 touchdowns, while McCubbin has added 626 yards and 10 scores.

Defensive lineman Elijah Lalli leads South Oldham with 105 tackles, including 32 tackles for losses and seven sacks. Malachi Kleber leads the Dragons with 8.5 sacks.

“We’ve really tried to be disciplined in practice,” Bell said. “We just have to apply it for the game. It’s going to be tough … We know we’re playing bigger, better teams to get to state.”

Smith said the Spartans had a disjointed practice on Monday, perhaps because it was in the immediate aftermath of the Bowling Green game. The veteran South Warren coach added that the concentration level improved over the course of the week in practice.

“The Bowling Green game is a different kind of game,” Smith said. “It’s a different kind of emotion, that’s only experienced in that game … I think we’re going to be hitting the (South Oldham) game at the right time.”

Kobe Martin is closing in on a 1,000-yard rushing season, with 145 carries for 922 yards and 13 touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Martin also has 13 receptions for 170 yards and two TDs.

“If we don’t score, early on, it’s really going to make it harder on us,” Martin said. “They’re solid, everywhere, on defense. This is the kind of game where you just put your head down and just go.”

Kickoff is set for 7.