BUTTONED DOWN/South Warren QB Bryce Button guides inspired Spartans to 47-13 victory over Greenwood


South Warren High School’s football tradition pretty much speaks for itself, but last year’s 35-21 loss to crosstown rival Greenwood seemed to stick in the Spartans’ collective craw.

Bryce Button and his South Warren teammates can turn the page on that one.

Button, the Spartans’ 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior quarterback, took the initiative on Friday night when South Warren took the field against the Gators, with both teams sporting 4-1 records looking for an edge in their district opener.

“There were photos of last year’s scoreboard, from the Greenwood game, all over the locker room,” Button said with a smile, after the Spartans cruised to an impressive 47-13 victory over the Gators at The Swamp.

South Warren has played its usually challenging non-district schedule, and it seemed to pay dividends in the early going against the Gators, who fell behind 16-0 in the first eight minutes of the game. That bulge allowed SWHS defensive coordinator Chuck Smith to take an aggressive tack against senior QB Cam Smith and the Greenwood offense, which didn’t get into the end zone until midway through the second quarter.

The Gators aren’t exactly built to throw the ball all over the place, however, and South took a 26-7 lead into the half and never looked back.

Which is what Brandon Smith, in his 10th season as the Spartans’ head coach, wanted to see. South is now 5-1 overall and 1-0 in the KHSAA’s Class 5A, 2nd District, tied atop the standings with Bowling Green High School, while Greenwood dropped to 4-2 overall and 0-1 in district play.

“I think we might have been a little too ‘amped up,’ early in the game,” Brandon Smith said after meeting with his team in the end zone. “The guys had to blow off a little steam … At halftime, they got all that emotion our of their system. I overthought some things, myself, in that first half …

“We left some points off the board. I thought our defense played really well, pretty much throughout … Getting a big lead is important, in a rivalry game. The kids know each other. There’s always some emotion.”

The second half belonged to Bryce Button and the South Warren offense.

Button hit South teammate Bailey Shoemaker on a deep route on the second play of the third quarter, a 47-yard scoring pass to the right seam of the field, as the Spartans opened a 33-7 lead.

At this point, Greenwood coach William Howard had little choice but to take some chances, and after the South defense stopped the Gators on a fourth-and-1 play — 10 yards shy of midfield — Button showed some versatility in getting the Spartans back in the end zone.

First, Button found South teammate Jeremy Bridges on a deep sideline pattern, for an 18-yard gain, and then he beat the Gators with his legs.

Button rolled to his right on first down, before making a decisive cut upfield and scoring on a 20-yard scoring run for his fourth rushing TD of the season. Then the Spartans forced a running clock for the remainder of the game, in the final 70 seconds of the third quarter, when South’s Colton Veltkamp made a juggling catch on a 17-yard touchdown pass to make it 47-7.

Button passed for four touchdowns and ran for another, and the Spartans could settle a score from last year’s defeat at South Warren.

“Last year’s game was on our mind, all week long,” Button said. “It’s always great to get some early momentum in a game like this … I just tried to play smart, to facilitate things, to get the ball to my guys.

“The offensive line did a GREAT job.”

South’s Ethan Reynolds, a football/baseball star, announced his commitment to play college baseball at Western Kentucky University earlier in the day. Reynolds, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior, played primarily on defense against the Gators, but South teammate Jimmy Sales handled the bulk of the carries in the Spartans’ ground game on this night.

Reynolds said last year’s loss to Greenwood was disappointing. One year removed from a KHSAA Class 5A state championship, the Spartans struggled to a 6-6 finish, twice falling to arch-rival Bowling Green on the Purples’ home field.

“We’ve had a motto this year, ‘Lean on me.’ I think it’s worked well for us,” Reynolds said. “You step on this field, and nobody wanted that feeling from last year.

“We’ve all waited 365 days for this game.”

It was a rough night for the Gators, any way you slice it.

“We had some bad breaks, early on,” Greenwood coach William Howard said. “Tel Tel (Long) returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but it comes back (because of a holding penalty). We had the bad snap, in punt formation, for a safety (in the game’s first 90 seconds) … I thought our run defense was pretty good; the pass defense needs a little work.

“We responded well, late in the first half. We kind of got back into it … The second half was a different animal. I don’t know if we were flat or what. (South Warren is) a very good team.”

Bryce Button hit Isaiah Rigsby on a sideline pass in the game’s first three minutes, and Rigsby broke a tackle on his way to a 56-yard TD reception to extend the Spartans’ lead to 9-0. Cam Smith, who played at South Warren before transferring to Greenwood, hit Gators teammate Cayden Schwarzkopf for a 17-yard TD pass in the second quarter.

Greenwood fullback Gray Price scored the Gators’ second touchdown, taking a screen pass from Cam Smith before breaking an open-field tackle and scoring on a 45-yard reception midway through the fourth quarter.

Button was scheduled to go on a recruiting trip to Eastern Kentucky University on Saturday, and he’s already had official visits to WKU and Middle Tennessee State. South’s Brandon Smith said Button also has drawn interest from Louisville and the University of Kentucky, and he’s shown steady improvement since Caden Veltkamp and the Spartans won their third state championship on December 4, 2021, with a hard-fought, 38-26 victory over Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School at Kroger Field.

“Bryce is a good player. In the second half, he was putting it right on the money,” Brandon Smith said. “He’s worked really hard this year.”

Next week, Greenwood returns to The Swamp to tangle with new district rival Ohio County (1-5). South Warren has an open date before its non-district matchup with Louisville’s Moore High School (3-2) on October 6.