The South Laurel defense will have to swarm to the ball like they did against East Jessamine last week to have a shot tonight against Whitley County.

When the South Laurel Cardinals take to the field tonight at Whitley County in the opening round of the state football playoffs, several things will be on the line for the underdog Cardinals.

First and foremost, Jason Chappell’s team will be looking to build off last week’s rout of East Jessamine and pull the upset on the 9-1 Colonels, who haven’t tasted defeat since a 38-8 loss to Bell Co. back on Sept. 5. That’s eight straight wins for Jim Black’s team, ranked No. 9 in the most recent Class 5A football poll.

And secondly, quarterback Ricky Bowling needs just one touchdown pass to become the all-time leader in Kentucky high school football history. Bowling is currently tied with the legendary Tim Couch with 133 touchdowns.

“We know we are the underdogs, but we’re coming into the game looking to win,” Chappell said. “And we know that Whitley’s defense will be keying on stopping Bowling from setting the record.”

The Colonels feature a potent running attack, led by senior Jason Powers, who has rushed for 1,253 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. But Powers isn’t the only running threat Whitley County possesses. Quarterback Jamie Labanion has rushed for 387 yards and 18 touchdowns, to go along with passing for 731 yards and six scores. Cody Jones has rushed for 724 yards and 18 scores, while Josh Wynn has rushed for 373 yards and one score.

“They have several backs who can beat you,” Chappell said. “It’s hard to key on one guy to step. They all run well, and force you to commit several defenders to stop the run. But you can’t just key on the run; Lebanion has a good arm and can throw deep. A lot of their big plays have come from deep passes.”

When Lebanion does throw, his main target is Athony Rider, who has caught 18 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Justin Goins has caught 10 passes for 202 yards and two scores, while Cody Jones and Chad Breeding have also caught TD passes.

“Whitley is an exceptionally good football team on both sides of the ball,” Chappell said. “They are very disciplined and don’t beat themselves. They don’t give up a lot of big plays. They are a sound, good football team, well coached.”

“We can’t afford to have turnovers and stupid penalties,” Chappell said. “We need to stay ahead of the chains. I feel like we have to get numbers to the ball on defense, which is tough to do with the option that they run.”

Chappell also noted that South’s special teams would have to play well in order to beat Whitley County.

“They need to create big plays and contain Whitley’s big plays,” Chappell. “We need to match their physical play. A big key for us is to get stops, and be sound on special teams. We need to win the turnover battle. If we can do that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The Cards might welcome back Jake Cobb this week, who was thought to be out for the season with an injury.

“He may get to come back,” Chappell said. “That would be a big boost if he can. We’re banged up, like we have been the last few weeks. But for the most part, we’re getting healthier.”

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. tonight at Whitley County High School in Williamsburg.

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