QUICK HITTER STORY/Bowling Green defense slugs its way past Cooper, 28-14, to claim KHSAA Class 5A state championship


LEXINGTON — It was wet ‘n wild, and when it was over, the Bowling Green High School football team was the last team standing in KHSAA Class 5A football.

The Purples claimed the eighth state championship in school history, closing the KHSAA’s “Championship Weekend” at a rain-drenched Kroger Field, by knocking off a rugged Cooper High School squad, 28-14, before a paid crowd of 6,299 that braved the elements on a cold, drizzling night.

Bowling Green finished yet another banner season under sixth-year head coach Mark Spader with a 12-3 overall record, one year after the Purples were defeated in the KHSAA Class 5A championship game, a 28-7 loss to Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School.

Cooper also finished its season at 12-3.

Turnovers proved to be critical, and there were plenty of them. The officials did their best to keep the footballs dry, but by the second half, that may have been impossible.

BGHS junior quarterback Deuce Bailey was named the game’s MVP, even after throwing three interceptions against a talented Cooper defense. Bailey’s versatility was critical in the first half, when the rain wasn’t falling quite as hard, and he completed 16 of 28 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns.

“We just had to get that bad taste out of our mouth from last year,” Bailey said in the postgame press conference.

The Purples’ defense, the team’s weakest leak in the first month of the season, answered the bell time and again against Cooper quarterback Cam O’Hara and the Jaguars’ offense on Saturday night.

Bowling Green recorded six sacks, and BGHS sophomore cornerback Dru Jones came up with a critical fourth-quarter interception to stop one of the Jaguars’ late scoring threats.

“The defense had to pay it back tonight,” BGHS defensive back Grayson Newman said.

BGHS coach Mark Spader made note of the Purples’ defeat on Opening Night, when Lexington Christian Academy amassed 757 yards total offense in slipping past Bowling Green, 56-52, on a hot, humid August night at WKU’s Houchens-Smith Stadium. Bowling Green dropped a Week Three decision on the road, too, falling on the road to Lexington’s Bryan Station High School, 38-35, on September 2.

Spader and the BGHS coaching staff made some personnel moves, including putting Max Buchanon on the edge and shifting senior co-captain Wick Dotson to Buchanon’s previous role at outside linebacker, and the Purples had outstanding team speed, defensively, over the last 2.5 months of the season.

“What a night! … We had a lot of adversity out there tonight,” Spader said. “If you followed us this season, you know we’ve been a resilient team. The first game, we gave up 700 yards of offense. Our defense wasn’t very well respected at the beginning of the year …

“That’s why I love high school football.”

Bailey hit BGHS senior tight end Matthew Klein for a 31-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring, and midway through the first quarter, Bailey found sophomore Purples receiver Trevy Barber on a post pattern, making the connection for a 43-yard touchdown pass. Braden Widener’s extra point — the junior football/soccer star didn’t miss a PAT the entire season — made it 14-0, and it looked like a rout might be in the works.

Instead, the Jaguars got on the board, on their next possession. Sophomore quarterback Cam O’Hara hit Isaiah Johnson for a 24-yard touchdown pass, trimming the Bowling Green lead to 14-7 with 3:46 left in the first quarter.

Cooper’s problems in the kicking game — the Jaguars muffed two punt returns and had one of their own punts partially blocked themselves — allowed Bowling Green to strike quickly in the second quarter.

The Purples’ Ethan Warder recovered the first muffed punt, putting Bailey and Co. at the Cooper 19-yard line. Bailey found sophomore BGHS running back Jaxen Smith for a nifty eight-yard touchdown reception, a swing pass to the goal line in the left corner of the field, and the Purples were back in front by 14 points.

In the second half, it became a defensive slugfest, and handling the ball became trickier with each passing moment.

“They decided to bring a lot of pressure (on the pass rush), especially on third down,” Cooper coach Randy Borchers said. “We had some drives where we got inside the 30, but we couldn’t finish them off … We probably didn’t get rid of the ball quickly enough a few times.”

The Purples celebrated with their fans and headed out of the building, completing the mission at hand in remarkable fashion.

Nothing fancy. Just hard-nosed football.

State title Number Eight is coming to Rockingham Avenue.

(I’ll have a complete story on the game on Sunday morning before I return to Bowling Green. Thanks for reading jimmashek.com. It’s been a fun season.)