By T. Wampler
The Hart County High School Raider football team has done something very few sports teams get to experience – an undefeated season. The Raiders are a perfect 12-0 as they prepare for round three of the playoffs, facing the 11-1 Union County Braves on Friday, November 17.
Head Coach Chad Griffin said the Union County Braves will ride the legs of junior #1, Jarren Johnson.
“He runs hard and is tough to bring down,” said Griffin. “He plays quarterback for them, but he is there to run the football for them.”
Griffin said they have a couple of other backs that can run the football but, “It (the Braves’ offense) runs through #1 (Johnson).”
Coach Griffin took a few minutes to look back at the Raider season after their round two victory over the Glasgow Scotties.
“Having an undefeated season is hard to do,” Coach Griffin began. “It doesn’t happen to teams often. Even teams who have won state championships don’t go undefeated. It’s hard to do.”
One big key is winning the close games, and the 2023 Raiders were able to do that. Earlier in the regular season, Hart County beat Glasgow 22-19 in the last seconds of that ball game and a week later edged Franklin-Simpson with a late touchdown. A week after beating the Wildcats, they defeated Campbellsville 21-14 in their final regular season game. The closest game in the regular season, besides those three signature wins, was their 33-22 victory over Adair County.
Then after defeating Webster County easily 43-8 in the first round of the playoffs, the Raiders knocked off the Scotties 28-21 in the second round.
“Anytime you can beat Glasgow, that’s an accomplishment to be proud of,” answered Griffin when asked about their second victory of the season over the Scotties. “Glasgow has a great program, and that was a good football team. It was a great football game with a great atmosphere. Anytime you can walk away with a win in the second round, that’s big.”
“It’s amazing, it really is,” replied the coach when asked about the great fan base the Raiders have. “It just added to the game with Glasgow’s fan base coming over here, all the people from Barren County coming to go with our big crowd.”
Griffin said that every week the Raider fans “just pack it down.”
The coach said their fans support them home and away.
“They’ve bought into us and just been great,” he said. “It has been a blessing to have them behind us.”
Griffin said another key to their undefeated season was “winning the 4th quarter.”
“You have to win two of the four,” he explained. “You’ve got to win the 4th quarter or you got to shut them out, and we’ve been fortunate to do both when we needed it.”
Griffin said they take great pride in being in shape in the 4th quarter and also being mentally tough. It takes determination to play your best in the final quarter. In 2023, the Raiders rose to the occasion and found a way to win in the 4th quarter.
The Raiders won the district by ‘winning the 4th quarter.’
Griffin is also proud of the way the Raiders’ defense has played this season.
“We’ve really gotten better on defense. I told you (in HCHN’s fall sports special section for the Raiders) and I told everybody and the players, if we want to be better than 9-3 (2022 record), we have to play better defense.”
“They (the players) have taken great pride in our defense,” he added. “Defensively, on Friday night against Glasgow, when it came time to shut it down, they did. Anytime you can run the football and play good defense, you’ve got a good football team. ”
On offense, the Raiders run Clark Rexroat, Hunter Monroe, Jordan Bradley, and JD Crump at their opposition. All four backs can run the football and all four are willing to block for their teammates.
“The really good thing is that they’ve bought into it,” said Griffin. “Jordan and Clark have been the staple, and JD’s been the staple, and then we added Hunter this year. We are in a four back rotation, and we got two other guys (Christian Martin and Kameron Asbury) that are really good, too, that just play defense right now.”
“We got some talent there,” he added. “But the thing that I’ve been really impressed by is how they all block, and that’s the key and the reason we’ve got fresh legs in the 4th quarter.”
Griffin also bragged about his sophomore quarterback, Jacob Shoulders. When asked about his growth this season, he said, “He has really stepped up. Jacob is a great athlete. He understands the game and works hard, and he’s smart. He is a player.”
Griffin said when they had to throw the football this season, they threw it.
“Jacob has been efficient, and he doesn’t make a whole lot of bad plays and if he does, he recovers. He did it (made a bad pass) against Glasgow and then on the next play, he threw a great ball to Clark (Rexroat) for a touchdown.”
Griffin said when you are young, you are going to make “young” mistakes, but that his young quarterback will continue to mature as he plays more games.
“I’m proud of the way he’s helped this team and continued to learn and grow each game,” he added. “He’s got 14 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. With what we do running the Wing T, doing what we do, that’s pretty good for a sophomore quarterback.”
Griffin is also proud of all his younger players and the contributions they make to the team.
“We’ve got some depth. We’ve got a great senior class, and I’ve talked about that before, but we’ve got a lot of juniors and sophomores behind those seniors that play,” continued Griffin. “Our JV team is good and has been good for the last four years. The seniors deserve a lot of credit, but there is a lot of talent behind them.”
Griffin looks at the big picture and likes what he sees for the future of the Raider football program.
“It’s good to see the younger players develop, and I say this all the time: the reason you see the same teams playing for region championship and state semifinals year after year, is they’ve been there and done it,” Griffin said as he concluded the interview. “These young kids are coming to practice everyday. They are getting to see what it takes…the hard work, the preparation, and that will carry over for years to come.”