Owensboro has the Warren East football team’s full attention this time around.
East (12-0) hosts the Red Devils at 7 p.m. Friday in the third round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Owensboro ousted the Raiders 39-14 in last year’s first round, but this is a much different WEHS squad, coach Ben Bruni said.
“Last year served as a wake-up for this entire season,” Bruni said. “I think we were looking down the road when we played Owensboro last year. That was a mistake on my part, first and foremost. You can’t overlook a program with the history and tradition like Owensboro has. It was a good learning tool for us, but it’s in the past.”
The Raiders’ present looks pretty good. They have the best record in school history and are making their deepest playoff run since a trip to the state semifinals in 2007.
WEHS has scored at least 35 points in nine straight games and leads the state defensively with 7.5 points per game allowed.
“I’m impressed with their linebacker corps,” Owensboro coach Joe Prince said. “(Running back/linebacker Eli Brown) is very talented on both sides of the ball. A solid set of linebackers usually makes for a very good defense.”
Warren East unloaded some frustrations last week on Lone Oak with a 42-9 home victory. The Purple Flash had eliminated the Raiders in three of the past five seasons.
WEHS junior quarterback Jimmy Burns has passed for 1,995 yards and 24 touchdowns. Brown and fellow running backs Khyree Boards, Devonte Duvall and Marlyne Walton have each rushed for at least 446 yards and five scores.
“They’ve got so many kids that can hurt you,” Prince said. “They’ve got five or six guys that could take it to the house on any play. Which kid did you concentrate on – Boards, Brown, Duvall, Walton? The quarterback throws a nice ball and gets it to the right people. We’ll have our hands full and have to play solid football to win.”
The Raiders have recorded six safeties this season and forced 28 turnovers, including three Friday against Lone Oak.
The defense centers on the sophomore Brown, who leads the team in tackles with 77 and picked up a verbal scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky just before UK coach Joker Phillips was fired Nov. 4.
“The coaches always say if me and JJ (Chatman) come to play, everybody will follow along,” Brown said. “That’s what we did Friday. We all looked like a team, coming to the ball and flying to the ball.”
Warren East will need all hands on deck Friday against Owensboro (8-4), which beat Madisonville-North Hopkins 31-7 last week.
“They are by far the fastest team we’ve played all year,” Bruni said. “They’ve played with a great level of intensity. They fly around and get 11 hats to the ball defensively. Offensively, they’re efficient and methodical. They kind of control the clock and wear you down.”
The Red Devils run the veer option offense and have spread their production around. Nine players have scored rushing touchdowns, and six players have more than 200 yards on the ground.
Owensboro has thrown the ball fewer than 100 times this year, but its defense has held opponents to seven points or fewer in four of its last five games.
Senior kicker Graham Gilliam has netted four field goals, including a 51-yarder last week.
“We’re a young team, and we’ve had some games where we haven’t played very well,” Prince said. “We’ve gotten better every week, and if we can hang on to the football, we’ll have a chance. Some teams we’ve lost to are very good teams, and it’s helped us, I think.”
Owensboro has played 12 games this year against 11 opponents with a combined record of 67-58.
Warren East has been perfect on a slate that includes 12 opponents with a combined record of 61-74. But the Raiders have learned to keep the same philosophy no matter the opponent, Brown said.
“They’re smaller than Lone Oak, but they’re fast and physical and willing to hit,” he said. “We just approach it like we approach every game.”