With a come-from-behind, 21-15 victory over Whitley County in last week's Class 5A District 8 Championship game, the No. 4 seeded Southwestern Warriors came away with the ninth district title in school history.
In mid-October, the Warriors were fighting to even make the playoffs, sitting at 2-5 on the year and winless in district play. A month later, Jason Foley and company are the district champions and heading to the regional finals for the fourth straight season.
Foley had big expectations when taking the job at Southwestern, and he delivered by leading the Warriors to a district title in his inaugural season. It was quite a turnaround for the Warriors after beginning the year by winning two of their first seven games of the 2019 season.
"Winning the district this year was a great accomplishment for our team," praised Foley. "With the new district alignment, we had a very tough and competitive district, and to come out on top is certainly a very good feeling. It was a goal of ours at the beginning of the year to do whatever it takes to finish at the top, and I'm proud of all in our program who worked together to finish strong and get the job done. When we were 2-5, it would have been easy for kids to shut down, or make excuses, or say, 'Let's just look toward next year,' but our coaching staff and players stayed true to the process, never wavered, and believed that we could get things going and gelling at just the right time."
"Facing the adversity that we did early in the year with anywhere from eight to ten starters out the first half of the season, and then overcoming that to go on the run that we have is very satisfying and has really given our players a ton of confidence as we have moved forward," Foley continued. "These kids had to learn a completely new offensive and defensive scheme, so we knew it would take time, but as they have grasped it, I have watched us get better and better, week in and week out. They have also stayed hungry and continued to strive for excellence. As a coach, that is all you can ask for."
Southwestern (7-5), after winning the district title a week ago in Williamsburg, will make the trek north up I-75 towards Lexington to face the undefeated Frederick Douglass Broncos. The Broncos (12-0) advanced to the regional title game after a 24-14 triumph over Scott County last Friday.
"As we look ahead to the regional championship game, we are very excited to be among the final eight teams in the state still playing," stated the first-year Southwestern coach. "However, we know that there is a great team in front of us in Frederick Douglass that we must be very prepared for if we want to continue to march on."
The Warriors come into the game as underdogs, as the Broncos are one of two undefeated teams in all of Class 5A. Covington Catholic, who is also 12-0 on the year, is the other unbeaten Class 5A ballclub.
Douglass has played extremely well on both sides of the ball in 2019, scoring a whopping 44.4 points per game and giving up only 4.9 points per contest. The Bronco offense has scored 40-plus points in nine games, while the defense has recorded nine shutouts.
"I have told our guys while we must prepare for their tendencies and strengths, but it is equally important for us to focus on us and being the best that we can be," Foley said. "We have had a good week of practice and look forward to going and competing our tails off on Friday night. For us to have a chance to win, we must limit their big plays when they have the ball and we have to find a way to get first downs and control the clock."
Offensively, quarterback Josh McClurg leads the way for Douglass, as he is the team's leading passer and rusher. McClurg is 74-of-105 for 1,161 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air to go along with another 947 yards and ten scores on 109 rushing attempts.
The pair of Darius Neal and Devin Neal have provided the Broncos with some big rushing numbers this year. Darius Neal has 91 carries for 747 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Devin Neal has chimed in with 54 rushes for 405 yards and eight scores.
Defensively, the Broncos' closest game so far this year was an 11-point, 42-31 victory over Lexington Catholic. Lexington Catholic is about the only team to have success against Douglass in 2019.
Southwestern's offense and defense has looked as good as it has all year long over the course of a five-game winning streak. During the last five games, the Warriors are averaging 25.6 points per game after averaging 13.9 points per contest during the first seven games of the season. Defensively, Southwestern has held teams to single digits in three of their last five ballgames.
When you look at the strength of schedule between the two teams, the Warriors hold an edge in that category. Southwestern's opponents from the regular season are a combined 74-63. The Broncos' regular-season opponents, meanwhile, have a combined record of 56-82 on the year.
"We feel that we are battle-tested with the difficult schedule we have played and the tight games that we have managed to win," explained Foley. "We have beaten some very good football teams along the way that has hopefully helped to prepare us for this game."
Tonight is another away game for the 'Road Warriors,' who will look to continue their success away from the Reservation. Southwestern has played seven road games this year, and they have won all but one of those. The Warriors will look to extend that mark with a 'W' in Lexington.
Douglass is only in its third year of existence, so this will be the inaugural meeting between the two schools. Tonight's game between the Warriors and the Broncos is set to get underway at 7:30 p.m. in Lexington.
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