FORT CAMPBELL — It’s time to take the “new kids on the block” label off South Warren.
The Spartans have knocked off one of the big boys.
“That’s a great football team,” SWHS coach Mark Nelson said. “The historic part of Fort Campbell – living in the playoffs and the state tournament and the athletes they have. To come in here and win a game like this is huge.”
Fort Campbell (9-3) has won three state titles in the past five years, the last in 2009. South Warren, a second-year program and third-year school, wasn’t even open then.
But that history didn’t matter Friday, as the Spartans outgained the Falcons 425-224, including a 219-73 advantage in the second half.
South Warren lost 41-0 to Fort Campbell in last year’s first round.
“We played them last year and got stomped,” junior tight end Lucas Holland said. “Honestly, a bunch of people had doubts coming into it, but it means the world because we took it to them.”
The Spartans rushed for 181 yards in the second half and limited Fort Campbell to 14 plays and two drives after the break. South Warren had 14 runs of 6 yards or more in the second half and controlled the ball for all but four-plus minutes.
“We went in at halftime, and we knew we had to come back out strong,” junior quarterback Jay Eblen said. “We couldn’t come out slow, and we needed to step on their throat a little bit so they couldn’t get back in it.”
The Spartans forced Fort Campbell to punt on the Falcons’ first two drives, but they faltered on offense with a lost fumble at the FCHS 1-yard line midway through the first quarter.
The Falcons fumbled the ball right back at their own 8 two plays later, and South Warren sophomore kicker Andrew Upton nailed a 21-yard field goal to make it 3-0 at the 3:03 mark of the first.
It was a much different start than the Spartans’ loss to Fort Campbell in last year’s first round, when the Falcons returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
“There wasn’t any intimidation,” Nelson said. “Last year, it was like we were in awe.”
Fort Campbell responded with 8:59 to play in the second quarter, when quarterback Jonathan Jethroe broke a 45-yard TD run.
South Warren took the lead back with an 80-yard, 10-play drive that ended with a 25-yard scoring strike from Eblen to senior receiver Toryn Cornell with 2:58 left in the half.
The Spartans outgained Fort Campbell 206-151 before halftime, including 166 total yards for Eblen.
But it was after the break that South Warren took full control.
It started with a 14-play, 91-yard opening drive that lasted nearly seven minutes. After a holding penalty backed SWHS to Fort Campbell’s 24-yard line, Eblen found Holland on a bootleg pass to make it 17-7 at the 5:15 mark of the third.
“The first half was us shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit,” Nelson said. “In the second half, the offensive line took control of the game. That’s what we had to have.”
The Falcons did little on either of their second-half possessions, and Jethroe was intercepted by senior defensive back Dillon Chambliss on their final attempt.
The drive before that, Eblen rolled out and capped another 14-play drive with a 7-yard scamper into the end zone with eight minutes left in the game.
“Last year, we came out here and they put it on us really bad,” Eblen said. “This feels great.”
Eblen finished 12-of-19 passing for 158 yards and three total touchdowns. He also rushed for 85 yards.
Seven players carried the ball for the Spartans, not including junior Joel Iyiegbuniwe, who didn’t play on offense because of an injury but did start in the secondary, Nelson said.
Fort Campbell had won seven straight games coming in and scored at least 43 points in each, but Friday was its lowest offensive output since a 31-7 loss Sept. 30, 2011, to Paducah Tilghman.
FCHS star sophomore running back Triston Luke, who entered with 1,938 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns this year, was held to minus 4 yards.
“All week in practice, we focused on him,” said Eblen, who also plays in the secondary. “He’s a great running back, and we were focused on stopping him.”
South Warren advances to a third-round road test at district foe Monroe County, which beat Paducah Tilghman 28-20 on Friday.
The Spartans lost to Monroe County 41-0 during the regular season.
“They took it to us last time,” Holland said. “We weren’t ready. But it doesn’t matter now. We have to do what we do week after week.”
SWHS 3 7 7 7 – 24
FCHS 0 7 0 0 – 7
SW - Upton 21 field goal, 3:03
FC - Jethroe 45 run (Sams kick), 8:59
SW - Cornell 25 pass from Eblen (Upton kick), 2:58
SW - Holland 24 pass from Eblen (Upton kick), 5:15
SW - Elben 7 run (Upton kick), 8:00