While it may be later than expected, the 2020 high school football season is officially here.
The Southwestern Warriors will make the 26-mile trip down Highway 90 to Monticello this evening to face the Wayne County Cardinals on the opening night of high school football in the Bluegrass State.
Southwestern will look to get the 2020 season started on the right foot with a victory over a solid Wayne County squad. The Cardinals went 10-2 last season before falling to Johnson Central, the eventual Class 4A state champion, in the regional championship round.
After a 2-5 start to the season a year ago, second-year Warrior football head coach Jason Foley is hoping that his team will come out of the gate ready to go. The Warriors, after losing five of their first seven games last year, went on to win five straight games and a district title prior to losing to eventual state runner-up Frederick Douglass in the postseason.
The season was scheduled to originally begin on August 21st, but the KHSAA decided to push the season back a few weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the later start to the season, Foley and company are glad to finally have the opportunity to play a football game.
“It feels great to finally be getting the opportunity to prepare for a football game,” began Foley. “There have been many unknowns these past few months, but to be getting back to some normalcy is a great feeling. The players have been working hard and are very excited to compete and play.”
With the lack of practices and the ability to have no preseason scrimmages, mistakes are bound to happen in tonight’s game for both teams. Southwestern will have to play heads up football on both sides of the football to have a shot at the win.
“It will be very important to limit mistakes on both offense and defense to win the football game,” explained Foley. “This early in the year, with very little practice time or not having scrimmage preparation, it is challenging, but we must limit mistakes the best that we can.”
The Cardinals are led by highly-touted senior running back Braedon Sloan. Sloan, who has already committed to play college ball at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), ran for 2,804 yards and 48 touchdowns on 277 carries in 2019.
Sloan averaged 233 rushing yards per game and four touchdowns per contest a season ago. The EKU commit is also Wayne County’s top returning receiver, as he hauled in 20 receptions for 461 yards and six scores.
Wayne County also returns starting quarterback Brody Weaver, who just shy of throwing for 2,000 yards last season. In 2019, Weaver was 102-of-177 for 1,822 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air, while rushing for another 235 yards and two scores on 70 attempts.
The Cardinals will lean on the pair of Sloan and Weaver for the majority of their offensive production. For Southwestern, they will have to find a way to slow down the one-two punch of Sloan and Weaver.
“I have a lot of respect for Wayne County,” Foley praised. “They had a tremendous season last year, and look to be very good again. For them, it starts with Braedon Sloan. In high school football, he's a once in a decade type back that you don't see often in high school football -- total package with speed, vision, and power.”
“We must rally to the ball to try and slow him down and execute the game plan we put forward,” continued the second-year Southwestern coach. “Their quarterback, Brody Weaver, can make plays, as well. It’s a very good one-two punch that they have.”
Southwestern, meanwhile, has a trio of running backs that are expected to contribute all-season long in Tanner Wright, Connor Crisp, and Giddeon Brainard. Senior Chandler Crabtree will take on the quarterback role this year, and he will have junior Maison Hibbard -- the team’s top returning wide out -- to throw to.
The Warrior defense returns Rowan Pennington at the linebacker position. Pennington, a senior, was second on the team in tackles last year with 128.
Tonight’s contest will be the fourth time that these two clubs have faced one another. After the two teams each took a game in their 2013 and 2014 matchups, Wayne County broke the series tie with a 44-6 triumph over the Warriors last season at the Reservation.
Wayne County ran out to a 24-0 first quarter lead and never looked back, scoring 44 unanswered points before Southwestern scored their lone touchdown of the ballgame in the closing minute of the final quarter. Sloan carried his team to victory on that night, finishing with 127 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to go along with another 59 receiving yards and a score.
Southwestern is hoping to avenge last season’s 38-point loss to the Cardinals with a victory tonight in Monticello. To do that, the Warriors will have to slow down Sloan as best as they can.
“Defensively, we must slow down Sloan, because everything revolves around him,” stated Foley. “He's the type of kid that you can't shut down, but you must slow him down to have a chance to win the game.”
On the offensive side of the football, Southwestern is hoping to use a mixture of running and throwing the ball against the Cardinal defense. The Warriors were a run first team a season ago, but they’re hoping to throw the ball a little more in 2020.
“Offensively, we need to limit turnovers and execute without too many missed assignments,” said the Warrior coach. “We need to establish the run and be able to pass enough to keep Wayne County off-balance.”
This evening’s ballgame between the Warriors and the Cardinals is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Wayne County High School's Jewell Field.
Follow Michael Childers on Twitter - @MChilders_22