The last time South Warren and Hopkinsville played in last year’s Class 4A Playoffs, it ultimately came down to defense, South Warren’s C.J. Hayes picking off Jalen Johnson’s pass deep in Spartan territory to seal the 28-24 victory over the Tigers.
The story of the season opener between the Spartans and Tigers on Friday night was no different…at least in the first half.
The Spartan defense held the Tigers to just 92 yards and forced two interceptions in the first half, and Coach Brandon Smith and South Warren started off the 2017 campaign the right way, holding on in the second half for a 35-14 victory.
South Warren (1-0) posted the first numbers on the scoreboard after Tiger quarterback Javier Bland’s pass was picked off deep in Hoptown territory by senior cornerback Greg Byrd and returned to the Tiger 24-yard line. Junior quarterback Gavin Spurrier then completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Caleb Lloyd to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Hoptown (0-1) was able to cross the threshold and into Spartan territory two times during the second quarter---driving as far as the South Warren 24-yard line----but the Tigers were unable to capitalize either time. The Spartans simply stymied the Tiger offense in the first half, allowing just 92 yards and taking a 7-0 lead into the locker room.
South Warren received the kickoff to start the second half, and the Spartans capitalized right away. The Spartans capped off a quick three-play, 73-yard drive with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Spurrier to junior wide out Clayton Bush to open up a 13-0 lead with 10:52 left in the third quarter.
After the stellar Spartan defense forced yet another three-and-out, South Warren cashed in on a short field from the Tiger 34-yard line. A 37-yard pass from Spurrier to senior Tryce Jackson set up a first-and-goal before senior running back Christian Winn put the period on the scoring drive with a three-yard touchdown burst to push the lead to 20-0 with 8:16 to go in the third quarter.
Hopkinsville finally got on the scoreboard in the middle of the third quarter, Bland finding Mitchell Degenhart wide open on a wheel route for a 32-yard score to cut the lead to 20-7.
On the ensuing Spartan possession, Winn showed off his speed with an impressive 62-yard run all the way down to the Hoptown 20-yard line. The scoring drive was capped off with a 16-yard power run by Eblen and a two-point conversion to extend the Spartans’ lead to 28-7.
However the Tigers quickly responded, senior wide out Gavin Marschand recording back-to-back 33-yard receptions, the second of which for a touchdown, to chip the lead to 28-14.
After a Spartan punt, Hopkinsville started to threaten and attempt to make it a one-score game for the first time since the intermission before Notre Dame commit Jacob Lacey stepped up and stuffed Bland in the backfield on fourth down at the Tiger 47-yard line with 6:50 remaining.
The Spartans would add seven more points to the scoreboard before the game was all said and done, and it came in a very unconventional way. South Warren brought out the field goal unit for a 40-yard attempt, only to have an errant snap result in a 23-yard touchdown pass from Bush to sophomore Issac Young to ultimately make the final score 35-14.
“We had a lot of guys in new spots and a lot of first game jitters,” said South Warren coach Brandon Smith when asked about his team’s performance in the win. “It was just a really ugly game, and I think Hopkinsville would say the same thing. But when it came time we made plays when we needed to.”
Spurrier completed 14-of-30 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns to negate the one interception he threw on the day. Overall, the junior---who is the grandson of former Florida and South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier---felt good about the way he performed.
“I think it’s pretty solid,” said Spurrier. “We are a pass-first team, and I could’ve done better, but for our first game against a pretty decent team, I thought it was decent for us.”