South Warren got off to a slow start in its regular-season meeting with Greenwood and trailed 9-8 at the break.
The Spartans were coming off a bye week following the program’s first loss – a 14-3 defeat at the hands of Bowling Green – since the 2017 state semifinals. The week before, South Warren escaped Glasgow with a 21-20 victory.
But since the start of the third quarter on Oct. 18 at The Swamp, the offense has been rolling. The Spartans have outscored opponents 117-15 in three victories to close out the regular season.
At 7 p.m. Friday, South Warren will face Greenwood again, but this time it’ll be at home in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs with the Spartans aiming to claim the state title for a second straight year.
“It definitely kicks up a notch anytime you get to where there’s real, immediate consequences to winning or losing,” South Warren coach Brandon Smith told the Daily News. “Practice intensity always goes up a notch and there’s a little bit different feel in your preparation and we’ve definitely experienced that.”
Smith challenged his team to get back to its roots – physical, aggressive play – following the loss to the Purples, and the Spartans have answered that call. Mason Willingham, who took over at quarterback in place of injured Caden Veltkamp following a week 5 victory at Central, has thrown for 334 yards and five touchdowns on 23-of-46 passing the last three weeks and running back Kobe Martin has rushed for 302 yards and six touchdowns on 47 carries during that stretch.
That success, according to Smith, starts with the offensive line and blocking from receivers, as well as cleaning up the self-inflicted wounds.
“They’ve been aggressive, they’ve been attacking and I think the guys touching the ball ran better and that makes things look different too, not just Mason,” Smith said.
South Warren knocked off Logan County, the then-No. 7 team in the Class 4A AP poll, to close out the regular season last week. The Spartans scored 20 unanswered points to open the game on the way to a 53-6 victory.
“I really don’t think we’ve had the mentality we’ve been searching for coming into a lot of these games, and I think Friday was the closest we got to having an aggressive-type mindset of nobody’s going to hand you anything. I think those guys did a much better job with just their approach and their mentality and the way that they played,” Smith said. “There was a little bit of drive and a little bit of passion in the way that they played and I thought that made a big difference.”
Greenwood has been trending in the opposite direction. After starting 4-0 and making its way into the top 10 in the Class 5A AP poll, the Gators have lost five of the last six games, including three straight heading into the postseason. The only win during that stretch was on Oct. 4 at Christian County 20-14, allowing Greenwood to avoid the No. 4 seed.
Greenwood’s running game, which led the Gators in their five wins, was slowed by the Spartans to 62 yards. Quarterback John Morrison was able to move the ball in the loss, completing 14-of-31 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown, but he was also intercepted three times.
“They’re extremely good at stopping the run and that’s what we typically do. We had to throw the ball a little bit and we did have some good things in the passing game tonight. We had some good yardage on that,” Greenwood coach William Howard said after the regular-season loss to the Spartans. “You’ve just kind of got to pick your poison a little bit with them because they’re got such great athletes. They’ve got Division I players over there and they’ve got skilled players at every position.”
South Warren leads the all-time series 6-1. Greenwood’s only win in the series was a 17-16 victory in 2016. Greenwood’s last postseason victory came in the first round of the 2017 Class 5A playoffs against Apollo, 51-31.