Bowling Green’s and South Warren’s runs to state championships this fall shared one obvious trait – dominant defenses.

Those units were on full display the past weekend at Houchens-Smith Stadium. The Purples grounded Pulaski County 21-7 on Saturday to win a Class 5A state title, while the Spartans handled Johnson Central 36-6 in the 4A game Sunday.

But both those defenses will look a lot different next season. BGHS loses every single player it started on that unit Saturday, except for junior linemen Dalan Cofer and Christian Hotchkiss. South returns only three defensive starters – junior end Zach Haynes, freshman tackle Jacob Lacey and junior cornerback C.J. Hayes.

Meanwhile, both offenses lose key pieces up front, but return starting skill players. Those include junior quarterbacks Ryder Litten (South Warren) and Clark Payne (Bowling Green).

Here’s a further look at what the state champion Purples and Spartans both lose and bring back for next season:


The Purples have significant rebuilding to do on defense.

A unit that stepped up its play as the season went on loses standouts like cornerback Tre Fant (eight interceptions), linebackers Jake Bush (70.5 total tackles) and Andrew Spader (70 tackles) and safety Griffin Cline (51 tackles, five interceptions).

Bowling Green returns key players up front like Cofer and Hotchkiss, but there will be “a complete reconstruction project” done on the rest of the defense, coach Kevin Wallace said.

“We’re losing four linebackers and we’re losing four secondary guys,” he said. “So the back end of that defense is going to be completely restructured.

“You’re talking about a defensive secondary that I think is the best one we’ve had. We’ve got a large job ahead of us to replace those guys.”

Underclassmen listed as backups on the Purples’ championship game depth chart included defensive tackle DeCarlo Halcomb, linebackers Jason Beason, Rashad Darden and Jhamir White and safety Tyler Stahl.

Several of those players saw regular time this year for a defense that allowed 12.5 points per game – the second-lowest total in Class 5A.

Offensively Bowling Green will return most of its offensive line, but loses right guard Zach Turner and left tackle Jordan Meredith, a Western Kentucky commit.

Left guard Matthew McCathron, center Kris Napier and right tackle Chazz Tooley will all be back.

At skill positions, the Purples return Payne at quarterback, playmakers Jamale Carothers at running back and Deangelo Wilson at wide receiver and Garrett Strickler at tight end.

Carothers and Wilson combined to score 42 touchdowns this season, while Payne threw for 32 TDs against seven interceptions in his first year as starter.

“I think we’ll be highly ranked just simply because when people talk about returning players they like to talk about people that touch the ball,” Wallace said. “Because we have so many of those guys back I’m sure that the expectations will be really high.

“But we won it the last month with our defense and we’re really going to have to replace a lot of playmakers there.”

South Warren

Spartans coach Brandon Smith said two position groups will experience the most roster turnover this offseason: the offensive line and linebacking corps.

The only returner who saw significant time on the offensive line is Lacey, who primarily backed up Shane Poe at right guard.

That’s one more returner than the linebackers can boast. South Warren used a six-linebacker rotation and all of them, including team leaders Austin McElwain (59 total tackles) and Devante Colton (73 tackles), were seniors.

“When it comes to offensive line and building chemistry as a unit and having some success up there, it’ll be extremely difficult to replace, along with linebackers,” Smith said. “We’ve always had good linebackers in place.

“I think we’ve got good young linebackers. But once again, they have zero experience coming in.”

Along with starters Haynes, Lacey and Hayes, returning players listed on the defensive depth chart are linemen Brandon Thrasher and Preston Sparkman, linebacker Chris Sheppard and defensive backs Josh Elliott and Robert Steelman. The SWHS defense allowed a state-best 5.9 points per game this season.

Offensively the only starting Spartans who return are Litten, running back Kayron Namvong and Hayes at receiver.

Hayes ran for two touchdowns and caught six in 2015. He figures to be South’s primary offensive target in 2016, Smith said.

“C.J.’s going to go from one of the guys to the guy,” Hayes said. “I think he’s ready to fill that role and I would anticipate him having a big year because we’ll end up putting a lot on his shoulders. I think he’s ready to handle that, too.”

Smith said there’s talent at the program’s lower levels, as evidenced by undefeated freshman and JV seasons.

But those younger players will have to fill a “leadership void” left by departing seniors like Colton, McElwain, Bryan Cummings and Jacob Wilde, Smith said.

“The core guys, the leadership guys that had a lot of those intangibles and were the field generals, those are the types of guys that are graduating,” Smith said. “You really can’t replace that stuff. ... It’ll be a very difficult task.”

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