LIBERTY — One of the upsides of a turnaround season such as that which Casey County enjoyed last year is that you might get invited to an attractive bowl.
One of the downsides, however, is that you might have to play a team like Simon Kenton.
This is where the Rebels will find themselves Friday as take the first step in following the best season in school history by opening a new season in Lincoln County’s PBK Death Valley Bowl.
The game against Simon Kenton that will mark the head coaching debut of Casey’s Sam Marple will also be the Rebels’ first appearance in a multi-game bowl since 2004.
Marple said he realizes that the two year invitation to the Lincoln doubleheader — where Casey also played in 2003 and ’04 — is something of a reward for an 8-4 campaign in 2010 that saw the Rebels set a school record for victories and win a playoff game for the first time.
But he also knows that playing in a bowl means playing a team that usually wouldn’t be found on Casey’s schedule.
“It’s exciting to be invited and to get to be in these type of bowl games, and as a football team, to get better you’ve got to step up and play in these type of games,” Marple said. “If you’re going 2-8 every year ... you don’t get invited to games like this. It’s an honor to be invited. Simon Kenton probably isn’t the team we’d want to play, but we’re going to go over there and make the best showing we can.”
Casey appears to be at a decided disadvantage against a Simon Kenton team listed among the top 10 in Class 6A in every preseason poll — the Pioneers are No. 6 in the Bluegrasspreps.com preseason rankings — and it will be only the first of a handful of games this season against teams with much larger rosters.
“That’s just a problem we’ve come to accept and our kids have talked about,” Marple said, adding that the team has used “No Excuses” as the theme for its poster this year. “They can only put 11 on the field and we put 11 on the field. We’ve got to get to halftime every night so we can get a breather, and then we’ve got to finish the game.
“We’re going to have 15 or 16 kids playing on Friday nights, and we’re wanting to compete with the best teams in our district, and the best teams have more than 15 or 16 kids. We’ve tried to use that as motivation.”
Marple said his goal is for a ball-control game that Friday will rely on Casey’s size and aggressive line play to keep its offense on the field, and he said the Rebels executed that well last week in their scrimmage at Pulaski County.
“Pulaski County’s a good 5A football team, and we were able to drive for three touchdowns on pretty good, long drives,” he said. “We were able to go on some long drives, stuff we need to be able to do this week.
“The thing that hurt us was ... we had a lot of mental mistakes, jumping offsides. With the type of offense we run, if we jump offsides on second down we’re at a bigger disadvantage, so we’ve got to cut down on those.”
Backup quarterback Wyatt Bishop, a sophomore, started and led the Casey offense for much of that scrimmage. Senior Will Hatter, the No. 1 quarterback, missed most of last week’s practices with a stomach ailment, but Marple said he has recovered and will start Friday.
Junior running back Alex Bolin, the only returnee among Casey’s two 1,000-yard rushers last season, also returns to the backfield.
Simon Kenton, a late addition to Lincoln’s bowl and a team that reached the third round of the 6A playoffs last season, has a roster rich in upperclassmen — there are 21 seniors and 20 juniors.
A strong, experienced line will protect senior quarterback Trey Pinkleton, a first-year starter, and 5-5 junior running back Nate Powell. The defense features junior linebacker Jared Bowling, who also plays tight end.
The Pioneers scrimmaged St. Xavier last week, and while nobody will confuse Casey with St. X, Marple said watching the film of that scrimmage was valuable because St. X uses the same split-back/veer offensive scheme that the Rebels will employ.
“We got to see the way they lined up and tried to stop it,” Marple said.
Now that the scrimmages are out of the way, Marple said he can see a sharper focus in his team this week.
“The scrimmage got all the jitters out of the way for our kids, and they woke up (Monday) and realized, ‘Hey, it’s game week,’” he said.
And Marple, a Casey graduate and former assistant coach, said he’s eager for his first game as a head coach.
“I think I’m ready to go. I’m excited, and I’m at the point where I’m ready to play it now,” he said.