No. 1-ranked South Warren embraces challenge of impending road trip to unbeaten Woodford County


South Warren quarterback Caden Veltkamp looked off in the distance, quickly acknowledging what the Spartans were up against in the KHSAA Class 5A state semifinals against unbeaten Woodford County.

At Woodford County.

“This is the best team we’ve played all year,” Veltkamp said Tuesday at Warren Central High School, where the Spartans practiced on the artificial turf field. “They’ll bring the whole town (to the stadium). It’s gonna be cold … They’re really fast, that’s the first thing I noticed.”

Veltkamp’s presence has been a steadying influence over the course of South Warren’s 12-1 season, which began on a hot August night at Western Kentucky University’s Houchens-Smith Stadium and has taken the Spartans to football on Thanksgiving weekend.

Not to mention, a trip to the KSHAA’s championship weekend, a matchup with either Owensboro High School or Frederick Douglass High School, on December 3 at the University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field in Lexington.

Veltkamp, a WKU commit, played one of the best games of his impressive career in South Warren’s 47-13 dismantling of South Oldham last week. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, before teammate Kobe Martin’s night — 104 yards on the ground, three TDs — finished off the talented Dragons.

Veteran South Warren coach Brandon Smith believes Woodford County is even better. Smith hails from that part of Kentucky, playing quarterback for his father, longtime Boyle County coach Chuck Smith. Brandon Smith believes the Spartans have embraced the challenge of a road trip to tangle with a 13-0 Woodford County squad on Friday night.

“We’re playing a pretty good team. They’re legit,” Smith said. “It’ll be a huge crowd. Probably the biggest our kids have seen on the field. It’ll have a championship atmosphere.

“They’ve got a great desire to win. It’s different when you play a team that’s expecting to win a championship. It’s a different beast altogether.”

Of course, Brandon Smith uses the same sorts of standards when assessing his South Warren program, including the KHSAA state championships in 2015 and 2018. Several of the Spartans’ third-year starters were on the sidelines for that KHSAA Class 5A state title game against Covington Catholic three years ago, but only senior linebacker/running back Luke Burton actually got on the field to play in the game.

By the same token, it was a valuable experience for South Warren players such as Caden Veltkamp, defensive tackle/tight end Jake Jackson and running back Kobe Martin.

“We always practice well for the best teams we play,” Jackson said. “They’re in the semifinals, so you know they’re a good team. They’ve got a big offensive line. They’ve got a good offense.”

That’s about as much praise as any opponent will get from Jackson, a catalyst on the field and a leader off it.

Brandon Smith said the Spartans understand that these opportunities are rare.

South Warren has been pointing toward this playoff run since last year’s 41-24 to archrival Bowling Green High School in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.

“Once you get to this point,” Smith said, “there’s a sense of finality to it.”

Woodford County eliminated Covington Catholic 28-14 in quarterfinal play, and that’s been the Yellow Jackets’ most competitive game to date.

Woodford County bounced Madison Southern 38-7 in first-round 5A play before trouncing West Jessamine 51-16, similar to the Spartans’ path to the semifinals. South Warren crushed Christian County 47-6 before turning the tables on Bowling Green with a 28-3 victory, completing a two-game sweep of the Purples. Then Veltkamp and Co. opened a big lead on South Oldham and the Spartans were able to get to a running clock in the second half in a 47-13 victory over the Dragons.

Woodford County quarterback Bryce Patterson has completed 114 of 182 passes for 2,096 yards and 24 touchdowns. He’s only been intercepted twice.

On the ground, tailback Preston Stacy leads the Dragons, with 1,349 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. Teammate Jackson Geilair has rushed for 727 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Patterson has added 413 yards and 15 rushing TDs. Defensively, Grant Garrison leads Woodford County with 12 sacks and 10.5 tackles for lost yardage, while teammates Aden Nelson and AIden Carroll each have four interceptions.

“We’re going to have to execute, and not have silly penalties or turnovers,” Brandon Smith said. “That’ll hand it over real quickly. The kids are embracing the opportunity. They’re gonna be ready to play.”

Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. CST, 7:30 in Versailles.