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Pratt: South Oldham football turning a "rebuilding" transition into a successful season

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By Elliott Pratt

That game was supposed to be the tricky one.

In one corner you had the South Oldham Dragons riding a five game win streak behind its stingy defense and a disciplined offense.

In the other corner is the mysterious success of Bullitt East. Having lost the first five games of the season – and not just lost, but it got whopped – it had suddenly won two straight district games rather convincingly.

If any team was going to knock South  back down to earth, surely it was going to be the Chargers, right?

Admit it, y’all thought the same thing. I know you did. You told me.

And we were both wrong.

Instead, what we saw last Friday night was a Dragons team having its way against a team that looked like it should be 0-7.

There was nothing tricky about it. South whopped ‘em.

Even Jamie Reed didn’t see that kind of game coming.

“I had no idea,” Reed said a few minutes after the Dragons’ 41-0 win. “We’re still gauging our team and we still have guys that are coming up big for us. I’m certainly glad it did turn out like that.”

Exactly. That’s what makes this 6-1 record for South remarkable.

“We’re still gauging our team,” means the Dragons are still trying to figure out all its pieces fit.

This was supposed to be the rebuilding year for South. Reed even said before the season this was probably the biggest transition year he’s had in his six seasons at the helm.

“I get up and pinch myself because I had no idea what we were going to have as far as a product on the field,” Reed said last week before the Bullitt East game.

Through seven games, here’s the product.

South put three new offensive linemen and a sophomore quarterback into its offense, and the Dragons average 34 points per game. South was most experienced with its returning defense, but still missing a player like Connor John, who graduated last year and walked on at Kentucky. The Dragons have actually gotten better and rank as the second best defense in Class 5-A allowing just under 10 points per game.

Is any of this a surprise?

“If you had asked me that in the beginning of the season, I would have said yes,” senior lineman Logan Ashkettle said. “That first Anderson County game, some of us were coming off hurt, we weren’t really a team yet and we had guys playing their first game. I think if we play them again, we’ve got a chance to beat them.”

How about that Anderson County game? The only blemish on South’s record is a game where the Dragons let a 18-14 third quarter lead slip away on the road at a premiere 5A team in the first game of the season.

It was a “welcome to high school varsity football” moment for most kids. That’s been the only game where South had to fight to come back and win it in the second half and the youth showed its inexperience, and they lost the fight.

Teams aren’t going to roll over every opponent on the schedule like South has been able to do the last six games. At some point, the playoffs come and a team just as talented, maybe better and definitely more experienced, is going to come along.

What about then?

“I don’t know,” Reed said. “We’ve grown. We’re now six games under our belt (since Anderson County). These guys are a little more battle tested. Some of those guys didn’t go through spring ball, they came in late in the summer and they’re going against a good team…We’re just going to keep grinding.”

There has been one thing though playing in South’s favor: the schedule. But it gets tough from here on out.

The Dragons’ first seven opponents are a combined 14-37 this season. South’s last three games of the year with Bullitt Central, North Bullitt and Shelby County have a combined record of 18-5.

“You base it off the season they’re having then and you certainly don’t know the kind of seasons they’re going to have in the future,” Reed said. “We’ve benefitted from our guys playing well, and honestly we’ve benefited from having a couple of teams on our schedule right now that just aren’t very good. I’ve said once we start district play, and we’ve started now, we’ll get a chance to find out where we are.”

And where that team is, despite its easy schedule thus far, is in a position to carry its momentum into this final stretch.

Put yourself in the opposition’s shoes last year when you agree to play South Oldham. Oh, they lost 23 seniors from a playoff team last year? They’ll have a down year. Mark that one a win.

Wrong again.

Even if the opponents aren’t great, South has turned into a pretty decent football team, even if the coaches had no clue what would happen with its youth.

Take sophomore Brandon Elsbury for example. That’s a kid the coaches had no clue about, now he’s an essential piece of the run game. He had a 28-yard touchdown run and had a special teams score by blocking a punt and recovering it in the end zone last Friday night.

Then there’s two sophomore quarterbacks. Trinity transfer Drew Zaubi is flourishing in an offense that’s new to him, and when he needs relief, Chandler Lightfoot steps in and the offense doesn’t miss a beat.

The number of juniors and sophomores making plays for South gives the impression of this being a reloading year instead of a rebuilding one.

“It’s pretty great — unbelievable basically,” senior Shane Wilson said. “We all thought it was a rebuilding year…we’re battle tested now. We’re ready for these big games.”

Indeed, these are big games that will prepare South for the playoffs. Credit these coaches and the players making this a pretty special year seven games in. 

But don’t put a crown on their heads yet.

These next games could be tricky ones, but I could be wrong again.

 

Email Elliott Pratt about this column at sports@oldhmaera.com.