OPENING NIGHT IS HERE/Warren East, Logan County and AC-S play host to doubleheaders; BGHS, Lexington Christian square off on Saturday night at WKU


Tanner Hall admits it was a restless night.

“Are you kidding? What do you think,” the first-year Warren East head football coach said with a laugh early Friday morning.

Opening Night has arrived in the Commonwealth, and there’s plenty of marquee matchups across South Central Kentucky on Friday night.

To wit:

***– Warren East High School will play host to the J Allen Builders Bowl on the blue turf of Jim Ross Field, with Franklin-Simpson and Christian County squaring off in the opening game, followed by Warren East’s tilt with Daviess County scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. start;

***– Butler County and Russellville will tangle in the opening game of the Lewisburg Bank Bowl, at Logan County High School, followed by the Cougars’ matchup with Warren Central;

***– Greenwood, 9-3 last season, will scrap with Hopkinsville High School in the first game of a doubleheader at Allen County-Scottsville High School, and Coach Brad Hood’s AC-S Patriots will face Marion County in the nightcap.

***– And then, on Saturday, three-time defending KHSAA Class 4A state champion Boyle County — the Rebels are 38-3, overall, in that span — will face Gibson Southern High School of Fort Branch, Indiana, at 5 p.m. in the Rafferty’s Bowl at WKU’s Houchens-Smith Stadium.

***– That game will be followed by a marquee matchup between Bowling Green High School — the Purples were the KHSAA Class 5A runner-up last season — and visiting Lexington Christian Academy, a Class 2A school that was a state semifinalist last year, while going 33-8 over the last three seasons.

Doug Charles is Lexington Christian’s fifth-year head coach, and the Eagles are led by 6-foot-5 senior quarterback Cutter Boley, a commit to his hometown school, the University of Kentucky.

***– And, if that wasn’t enough, tradition-rich South Warren will make the short trip to Campbellsville, Kentucky, to scrap with North Hardin High School. Kickoff for that game is at 3 p.m. EDT.

That’s a lot of high-profile games across South Central Kentucky, and there are others, too, such as Metcalfe County (a 12-1 squad that reached the Class 2A quarterfinals in 2022) playing host to Barren County, a Class 6A team that finished 4-7 last season.

That’s a lot of high-profile matchups.

Opening Night is critical, a scene setter in every sense of the word, but also a game in which coaches can measure their team’s progress since summer camp. Bowling Green and Lexington Christian share a similar dilemma, finding capable teams that are willing to play them in a non-district setting. In fact, the Purples will travel to Lexington for LCA’s doubleheader on September 2, a matchup with Bryan Station in Week Three of the season.

Lexington Christian will play host to KHSAA Class 1A powerhouse Pikeville in the nightcap of the LCA Bowl, sponsored by

“I consider the Rafferty’s Bowl to be the best bowl game in the state,” BGHS coach Mark Spader said. “We’ve been able to get some good teams to come to WKU, and I know all three (visiting) programs coming are excited about playing in Bowling Green.”

The Purples needed a few weeks to find themselves, but used a hard-fought, 28-24 victory over archrival South Warren to go on a 6-1 run that ended at the University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field. Bowling Green dominated its first four postseason opponents, including the aforementioned Spartans from Nashville Road, on its way to the KHSAA Class 5A championship game.

Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School stopped that run to glory, however, denying the Purples their eighth state championship in the first week of December. The Broncos’ defensive front took control in the third quarter and Frederick Douglass stopped BGHS 28-7 in the Class 5A championship game.

Lexington Christian made it to the KHSAA’s Championship Weekend, too, falling to perennial power Mayfield 38-28 at Kroger Field in the Class 2A title game. Cutter Boley, the Eagles’ seasoned quarterback, is one of nine LCA players who have made commitments to NCAA Division I programs, but Boley is the lone one headed to a Power Five conference.

“If you let (Boley) sit back there, in a clean pocket, you’re going to be in trouble,” BGHS coach Mark Spader said. “He’s got all the measurables. The flip side is (LCA) is gonna have to defend us. They like their quarterback, but we’re pretty high on Deuce Bailey, too.”

Bailey, the Purples’ junior quarterback, is still evaluating his college options. The 6-foot-1 dual threat QB completed 61 percent of his passes last year, his second season as the BHGS starter, while throwing for 3,136 yards and 34 touchdowns. He was intercepted nine times, while rushing for 424 yards and three scores.

The Purples also return senior running back Javen Huddleston, a big-play threat who rushed for 1,184 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, and an experienced wide receiving corps that includes the likes of Easton Barlow, Trevy Barber and Ethan Warder. Barlow, who plans to attend the Air Force Academy next year, had a team-high 52 receptions for 1,008 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2022.

Lexington Christian’s Cutter Boley, like Bailey, operates out of a spread attack. Boley completed 63 percent of his passes last year for 3,901 yards and 36 touchdowns. He was intercepted 15 times, while rushing for 102 yards and six more scores.

Spader’s big concern is a revamped BGHS offensive line, which returns just two starters, senior guard DeMarcus Elliott and junior tackle Parker Fields. Elliott might see more time on defense this season, however, as the Purples will have some new faces on their defensive front, too.

In fact, the unknowns are a big part of Opening Night, from Greenwood going with senior transfer Cam Smith as its starting quarterback, to Warren Central hoping to use last year’s 5-6 season into a springboard toward more tangible success.

On Opening Night last year, Mark Nelson’s Warren Central squad traveled to Bullitt Central High School and defeated the Cougars 13-0 in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The breakthrough victory snapped a 62-game losing streak, dating back to the 2015 season.

“We’re in pretty good shape, but we’re a little banged-up,” Nelson said. “We’ve got three starters out tonight, two at linebacker. The goals for this team are higher, and they understand what they have to do to get there.

“We can’t make mistakes, we’ve got to stay away from the turnovers. Logan County is very good. (LCHS) Coach (Todd) Adler has changed their program, forever … They’ve got a lot of kids who can hurt you, on offense.”

Logan County went 12-1 last year, bowing out in the KHSAA Class 4A quarterfinals with a 55-19 loss to Louisville’s Central High School. The Cougars have had a battle for the starting quarterback role over the last few weeks, with incumbent Davin Yates and 6-foot-3 sophomore Ridge Holman splitting time at the position. Logan County has to replace workhorse running back Ryan Reyno, however, and Yates could be in line to move from quarterback to tailback for his senior year with the Cougars.

Mark Nelson plans to use two quarterbacks himself, in junior Zariante Howard and sophomore Dominique Anthony.

In the first game of the Lewisburg Bank Bowl, Russellville coach Mikie Benton’s Panthers will look for an opening game spark after last year’s difficult 1-10 season. One year removed from an appearance in the KHSAA Class 1A state championship game, the Panthers will again square off with Butler County High School in their opener.

Butler County used a sturdy running game to dismantle Russellville, 34-14, last year on Opening Night in Morgantown. The Bears went on to finish 8-3, falling to Murray High School 27-21 in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs. This year, Butler County moves up to Class 3A, where the Bears will compete against the likes of Franklin-Simpson (down from 4A), Glasgow and Hart County.

“Butler County beat us to death. They controlled the line of scrimmage,” Russellville coach Mikie Benton said. “Ultimately, (the 2022 season) was a struggle for us. But we’ve moved past it, we’re focused on this year. I’m optimistic, but I’m realistic at the same time.

“We’re going to be starting four freshmen, at wide receiver and in the secondary. You’re talking about 14-year-old kids going up against guys that are 17, 18, even 19 years old.”

Tanner Hall, who has succeeded Jeff Griffith at Warren East, has some unknowns of his own. The Raiders return two-way tackle Jari Barber, linebacker Maddox Tarrance and standout quarterback Dane Parsley, however, and they’re coming off a 12-1 season that included emotional victories over longtime nemesis Franklin-Simpson, as well as playoff wins over Hopkins County Central and Madisonville-North Hopkins.

“I’m just glad we’re going to have seasonably cool weather,” Hall said. “We’re not going to have to be worried about the heat index, that kind of thing. We’re real thin at receiver, and in the secondary, but I bet there’s 50 kids in our freshmen and sophomore classes. We’ve picked up three seniors who didn’t play football last year.

“Dane (Parsley) has really come on, at quarterback. Daviess County is going to be a very good test for us.”