South Warren’s 15th win Sunday was no different than its first 14.
It came with a bruising defense that stuffed the other team’s offense, clutch moments from skill players and the general feeling that the outcome was never in doubt.
What the Spartans’ 36-6 crushing of Johnson Central in the Class 4A title game lacked in drama, it made up for with its perfect demonstration of what made South’s season, well, perfect.
“15-0 is a perfect season,” said one of the stars, senior Austin McElwain. “This football team has been perfect all year and we didn’t expect anything less tonight.”
The Spartans’ coronation Sunday night at Houchens-Smith Stadium capped a campaign of convincing domination.
South Warren won all 15 of its games in 2015 by at least 21 points. The Spartans didn’t allow a single team to score more than 14 points and only three times did they themselves score less than 34.
The final scores of their five playoff games? 48-8, 34-7, 34-7, 36-6 and, once again Sunday night in their first-ever state championship game, 36-6.
No wonder coach Brandon Smith had the ultimate confidence about his team.
“Every now and then you get around a group of guys that are just special and they’re not going to lose,” he said. “You just feel there’s no way they’ll let you lose. These guys weren’t going to accept anything less and you saw the end result.”
Smith and the Spartan players talked last week about the challenge presented by Johnson Central. The Golden Eagles used their wishbone running attack to put themselves in the title game opposite SWHS.
That wishbone got snapped in two Sunday night by the Spartans’ stout rushing defense.
Defensive tackles Jacob Lacey and Jacob Wilde busted up the interior of the JCHS offensive line, while linebackers like McElwain and Devante Colton took care of the rest.
The Golden Eagles finished with 90 rushing yards on 25 carries. Subtract Bryce Skaggs’ 68-yard TD run from that equation and Johnson Central averaged less than one yard per carry.
“We’re a hard-nosed, tough defense,” senior wide receiver/cornerback Bryan Cummings said. “They’re a run team and we’re a run-stopping team. I don’t think any team can run on us.”
The defense had scored on its own plenty this season, scoring six defensive TDs through the Spartans’ first 14 games. South’s defense notched two more of those scores Sunday, coming on fumble returns by Colton and Wilde.
The return by the senior Wilde was a momentum-shifting play, coming on the heels of JCHS’ lone touchdown and a Golden Eagles goal-line stand.
Wilde picked up a loose ball that Colton poked away from Skaggs and went six yards into the end zone, falling backwards over the goal line for good measure. That TD made it a 29-6 Spartans lead with 1:00 left in the game and effectively sealed the victory.
The Spartan defensive line “just destroyed them,” Cummings said. “They couldn’t stop them all night long. Those are our big tanks in the middle.”
Offensively for South Warren the story was third-down conversions. The Spartans converted on 11 of 16 chances in those situations, with junior quarterback Ryder Litten making throws at the right time.
Litten came up with conversions on third-and-7, third-and-10, third-and-14, third-and-12, third-and-8 and third-and-12 once more during the course of the game.
Litten was named the game’s MVP after completing 9 of 18 passes for 154 yards with one touchdown against two interceptions. He also ran 17 times for 50 yards.
Cummings was his top target, catching four passes for 78 yards.
“Our linemen gave me all the time in the world and our wide receivers ran great routes,” Litten said. “Everybody as a team did their job and converted on third down.”
South Warren went into halftime up 22-0 thanks to a first-quarter Alex Cohron field goal and three TDs in the first five minutes of the second.
Litten started that scoring burst with a 24-yard TD pass to a wide open Chase Japp on the first play of the second quarter.
McElwain forced a Spartans fumble on the Golden Eagles’ next possession. Colton picked up the loose ball and ran it 22 yards for a touchdown.
“They did an outstanding job,” Smith said of his defense. “I’ll be honest with you. I was more scared about what (Johnson Central) did offensively than really anybody we played all year long, just because of their size and the way they executed it. The defense stopped it."
Cohron missed extra points after both of those scores, making it a 15-0 South Warren lead with 11:07 left in the second quarter.
Running back Kayron Namvong made it 22-0 with 7:15 to play with a 9-yard TD run. The junior shook one JCHS defender, then dove over the goal line for the score.
He finished with a hard-fought 121 yards on 27 carries.
Skaggs got Johnson Central on the board with his 68-yard TD run in the third quarter, but Wilde answered that with the fumble return score.
McElwain put the icing on the cake in the fourth quarter, juking two defenders on his way to an 8-yard touchdown run. That made it 36-6 with 7:35 left.
By that point South Warren students had already begun chanting and celebrating the school’s first state title.
"It’s really humbling, but it’s bittersweet at the same time," McElwain said. "It’s my last game, but I was really happy to go out with a ring.”
After the game friends and family came on the field, taking pictures and embracing their new state champions. One of those moments happened between Smith and his father Chuck Smith, who has won five state championships as coach at Boyle County.
“I think he was as happy as I was,” Brandon Smith said. “He probably felt like he won one, too. … To have him to share that with is really special.”
So now South Warren is 15-0, the undisputed Class 4A champion with the trophy to prove it. And a team that dominated Games 1-14 went out Sunday night by doing the same in Game 15.
It was the perfect ending to the perfect season.