Covington Catholic dashes South Warren’s state title hopes
The South Warren Spartans put together a miraculous run in this year’s Class 5A playoffs, but unfortunately that all came to an end on Friday night.
Covington Catholic senior quarterback AJ Mayer threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns, the defense held the Spartans to just 274 yards of total offense, and the top-ranked Colonels rolled to a 43-7 victory to remain undefeated and punch their ticket to the state title game at Kroger Field in Lexington next Saturday.
“They’re a really good team,” South Warren coach Brandon Smith said. “Every now and then you just come across a squad that just has a different hop in their step and this team had that. We had just come off a couple of emotional games in a row (Christian County and Bowling Green), and I think it finally caught up to us.”
The Colonels (14-0) quickly got the ball rolling on the opening possession with a 54-touchdown pass from Mayer to junior wide receiver Jack Coldiron via a screen pass to open up with a 7-0 lead at the 9:50 mark of the first quarter.
Covington Catholic then quickly demonstrated its great defensive ability, forcing South Warren senior Marcus Elmore to fumble on the second play from scrimmage. The Colonels found pay dirt on a 45-yard strike from Mayer to Coldiron once again to extend the lead to 14-0.
The Spartans (11-3) remained tough for the next few possessions despite an interception thrown by junior quarterback Gavin Spurrier in the red zone, and South Warren appeared to be getting the ball back with a chance to make it a one-score game again after forcing CovCath into a fourth-and-11 situation.
But the Colonels had other ideas.
Senior Grant Dyer was in punt formation when he took the snap, caught a few key blocks, and ran 35 yards down the right side for a big first down. The Colonels found the end zone a couple plays later when Mayer was about sacked in the backfield for a loss by a host of Spartan defenders, only to spin around as he was going down to find Casey McGinness wide open on the left side and the junior running back scamper in 17 yards for the score to make it 21-0 with 7:53 left in the half.
However South Warren would respond to adversity to make it a game again, even when the Spartans had their backs against the wall.
After a Colonel punt pinned the Spartans at their own 1-yard line, Spurrier engineered a drive that saw South Warren drive all the way to the CovCath 12-yard line. The Spartans converted a 4th-and-3 via a pitch to senior running back Christian Winn on the option to the right side to set up a first-and-goal, and South Warren found the end zone on an 8-yard strike from Spurrier to Elmore near the front left pylon to make it 21-7 at the intermission.
The Spartans received the ball to start the second half but went three-and-out, and that was the point when the momentum seemed to shift entirely in the Colonels’ favor.
CovCath drove deep into Spartan territory after the punt before a 9-yard scoring burst by McGinness pushed the Colonels’ advantage to 28-7 at the 7:13 mark of the third quarter.
“We felt good at halftime,” Smith said. “We thought we had weathered the storm but we come out the opening series and have a drop that would have been for 50 yards or a touchdown. We had to punt, and after that they just put things together. You just can’t make mistakes and we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities when we had them.”
The Colonels continued to run away with it on a 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown by Mayer on the first play of the fourth quarter, and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Mayer to senior Luke Lenihan and a two-point-conversion put the KHSAA-mandated running clock into effect with 8:53 left in regulation.
Mayer led CovCath in the victory, as the Miami (OH) commit completed 18-of-26 passes for a whopping 339 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for an additional 22 yards and a score.
Coldiron topped the receiving corps with 121 yards and two scores on four receptions, while senior Sam Schuh added 106 yards on five catches.
Spurrier completed 12-of-22 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown, and the junior also rushed for 25 yards on five attempts.
Elmore played well in his last game at Spartan Stadium, catching seven passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Elmore’s fellow senior Winn also had a respectable game in the last of his career, rushing for 79 yards on 22 attempts. Smith had nothing but words of praise for Elmore, Winn and the other eight seniors on roster.
“We talk all the time about ‘leaving the program better than when you started,” Smith said. “There’s no question that they’ve done it, winning region titles in 3A, 4A and 5A. I’m as proud as I can be of them. They’re not big kids but they have tremendous heart and resilience. They went through adversity throughout their entire career but responded every time, and I am as proud as I can be of them.”
Covington Catholic: The Colonels were able to showcase why they were the top-ranked team in the state and are yet to lose a game. South Warren matched the closest any Kentucky school has come to knocking off CovCath this season by losing by 36 points, with the other team being 1A powerhouse Beechwood.
South Warren: The Spartans were able to turn their season around after a 43-7 shellacking at Bowling Green on Oct. 20 by playing top-notch defense, but South Warren was unable to come up with a takeaway on Friday night while committing two turnovers. South Warren finishes the season at 11-3, marking the third 11-plus win season in Smith’s five years at the helm.
Covington Catholic: The Colonels advance to the state championship game against Madison Southern at Kroger Field in Lexington next Saturday night. The Eagles (10-3) shook off a shaky 2-2 start to the season to make it to the state semifinals, where they defeated Harlan County, 27-20, to advance to the title game. Madison Southern and CovCath last met on the gridiron on Nov. 13, 2015, and the game resulted in a 28-7 Colonels’ victory.
South Warren: The Spartans’ season is finished with an 11-3 record.