Relentless South Warren back in state title game after impressive 46-25 rout of Woodford County


VERSAILLES — The seeds were planted about a year ago, at least in the estimation of South Warren senior defensive tackle Jake Jackson.

The Spartans didn’t lose in a 2020 season that was short-circuited by the COVID-19 pandemic, until they ran into archrival Bowling Green High School in the second round of the KHSAA Class 5A playoffs.

Bowling Green struck when the iron was hot, turning a blocked punt into a go-ahead touchdown in an impressive 41-24 victory over the Spartans.

They’ve been gunning for another shot at a championship since that night, and on Friday night, nothing was going to stop the No. 1-ranked Spartans.

Not the spotlight.

Not the pressure.

And certainly not the previously unbeaten Woodford County Yellow Jackets themselves.

“We just came out swinging,” Jackson said after South Warren crushed the Yellow Jackets 46-25, a deceiving score if there ever was one. “It feels really nice. This is something we’ve been working for, for a long time. Now we just have to finish it off, next week.”

South Warren improved to 13-1 overall and the Spartans will take on Frederick Douglass High School on Saturday, December 4, in the KHSAA Class 5A championship game at the University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field. Woodford County, which trailed by a staggering count of 46-3 at halftime, finished its season 13-1.

For the second consecutive week, the Spartans forced the officials to use a running clock to roll through the second half. Woodford County kept plugging away, however, and scored a couple late touchdowns against the Spartans’ second-team defense to make the final margin a little more respectable.

With a massive crowd on hand, just as veteran South Warren coach Brandon Smith predicted, the Spartans wasted little time taking control. And they never let up in extending their winning streak to 12 games.

“Our guys were prepared, they were ready to play,” Smith said when it was over. “They executed … you saw what happened. I don’t think anybody could have expected a game like that … I think we kind of stunned them, right away, and we didn’t let up.”

The Yellow Jackets gift wrapped a couple points for South Warren on the opening kickoff, when their return man fell back into the end zone for a safety. After the ensuing free kick, Spartans quarterback Caden Veltkamp hit teammate Keegan Milby on a deep pattern for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

It took South Warren just 15 seconds to open a 9-0 lead.

The Spartans were just getting started.

Senior tailback Kobe Martin scored twice for South Warren in the opening half, including a brilliant 77-yard touchdown run in the opening moments of the second quarter. Martin took the handoff from Veltkamp and quickly found a hole on the right side of the line before breaking two or three tackles on his way to the end zone.

Martin wasn’t going to be stopped.

“I just saw the hole, and got into the open field,” Martin said with a smile. “Then, I just couldn’t get caught … I had to SCORE. One way or another.”

Operating behind a cohesive offensive line, Martin kept the Spartans on the prowl when Woodford County was pulling out all the stops in hopes of getting back in the game. South Warren’s starting offensive line — tackles Dalton Smith and Preston Parks, guards Corey Butterling,and Micah Larue and center Zach Goodwin — has come into its own in postseason play.

“Our offensive line has really played well, the last few weeks,” Brandon Smith said. “I think they’re hitting their stride.”

So, too, have Veltkamp and the Spartans’ receivers.

Veltkamp found a wide-open Luke Burton in the middle of the field for a 20-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, and he had a hand in the Spartans’ razzle-dazzle score, Burton’s 48-yard TD pass to Mason Willingham after the Yellow Jackets’ defense bought Veltkamp’s play-action fake.

South Warren opted for a 2-point conversion try after Willingham’s touchdown, and the senior Spartans receiver got the ball on another trick play and before finding the Veltkamp in the end zone for the two points that left Woodford County with an astounding 39-3 deficit.

The Yellow Jackets never knew what hit them.

Or so it seemed.

The Spartans’ DeShawn Bridges fielded a Woodford County fumble, again on a kickoff return, and scored on a 2-yard run before the running clock brought the proceedings to a merciful halt. In a game of attrition, like football, that could give South Warren an edge in the championship game against Frederick Douglass High School in eight days.

Eldar Dervisivec, the Spartans’ versatile punter/placekicker/receiver/return man, got off a critical 48-yard punt after taking a snap at the end line in the second quarter. Veltkamp, Jackson and other South Warren players raved about the contributions of their special teams personnel, which helped the Spartans take the crowd out of the game on their way to yet another impressive victory.

South Warren really hasn’t been challenged since a fourth-quarter defensive lapse allowed Hendersonville (Tennessee) to slip out of town with a 27-20 victory over the Spartans on August 27. Now, Brandon Smith’s squad has an opportunity to win the school’s third state championship in the 11-year history of the school, including its first since the 2018 season.

That happened when Veltkamp, Martin, Burton and Co. were freshmen at South, just three years ago. The Spartans turned back Covington Catholic 20-16 that year in the KHSAA Class 5A championship game that year, and now they’ll be looking to do it again, this time against Frederick Douglass High School, which opened a few years ago in Lexington.

“We’re one step closer,” Veltkamp said.

“This wasn’t our first big game,” Spartans strong safety William Trussell said. “We’re used to the spotlight.”

In the second half, Woodford County quarterback Bryce Patterson kept throwing, getting the Yellow Jackets into the end zone three times. Patterson’s 83-yard touchdown pass to Makhi Smith, and a subsequent 2-point conversion, with 1:35 left in the game, accounted for the final margin.

“Our special teams really dominated tonight. Our defense dominated,” Veltkamp said. “We’ll celebrate on the bus ride home, come back over the weekend and get our minds right on Saturday, watch some college football, and start our work week with a team meeting on Sunday. We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

Veltkamp passed sparingly but effectively, as he often has during this amazing South Warren football season. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns, while Kobe Martin had his third straight 100-yard rushing game, leading the Spartans with 147 yards on just 10 carries.

Brandon Smith rested Veltkamp, Martin and most of the South Warren starters in the second half, and the Spartans coaches had to remind the KHSAA officials about the running clock that brought the game to a merciful halt.

The Spartans will try to roll with that momentum when they square off with Frederick Douglass High School next week, this time at Kroger Field in Lexington.

Needless to say, South Warren wasn’t going to be denied in this game.

“The coaches challenged us, in practice,” senior offensive lineman Preston Parks said. “We knew we had to put our heads on, and get to work. We know we have what it takes, to win football games.

“It’s all there, right in front of us.”