BOWLING GREEN — Scott County Coach Jim McKee has proclaimed the last few years that he had the best public-school football program in Class 6A, conceding that private-school superpowers Trinity and St. Xavier were a notch above his Cardinals.
But the boisterous McKee and Scott County need not defer to anybody anymore.
Scott County capped an undefeated championship season by beating Meade County 21-14 in the Russell Athletic/KHSAA 6A finals in front of 4,716 frosty fans in Western Kentucky's L.T. Smith Stadium Saturday night.
"We've been building and building toward this for a long time," McKee said. "This has just been a dream season, and for me to be able to do it with Clay at quarterback, it's a special thing, something coaches dream about."
Clay McKee, the coach's son, directed Scott County on a dramatic game-winning drive in the closing minutes.
Meade County quarterback John Wilson, Clay's cousin, scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie it 14-14 with 4:34 left.
Then it was Clay's turn in the spotlight, and he shone in Scott County's 73-yard march to glory.
He threw a 19-yard pass to Keith Guy, who made a fantastic bobbling catch to keep the drive alive. A pass interference call against Meade County pushed the ball farther down the field.
Scott County eventually got to the Green Wave 6-yard line with less than a minute to play, and it looked like the Cards were setting up trusty kicker Palmer Ward for a shot at a game-winning field goal.
Instead, McKee threw a quick parallel pass to the left sideline to Scott Daniel, who dived over the pylon for the TD with 40 seconds left.
"Absolutely, they thought we were going to run the ball," Clay McKee said. "I knew if I could get the ball to Scotty in space, he'd get it in."
Daniel, choking on tears of joy after the game, said he "just dove for the end zone and somehow got in."
Even though the Cards' offense did the job in the final minutes, Daniel said Scott County's defense won the game. It held Meade County to less than 100 yards until the Green Wave mounted its late scoring drive.
Jacob VanMeter, a senior defensive end who was named the finals' MVP, said it was business as usual: "Whenever our offense had trouble this year, the defense stepped up and did the job. We did that again tonight."
Austin Crank, Dylan Smith, Thomas Daniel and Grayson Miller also helped key the Scott County defense.
Miller had an interception in the second quarter that set up the Cards' first score, a short TD run by Kevin Claussen. Ward kicked his state-record 100th extra point to make it 7-0.
Meade County answered quickly, though. Nick O'Brien returned the kickoff 90 yards to the Scott County 1, and Wilson scored on a sneak. The Green Wave failed on a two-point run and trailed 7-6.
Scott County added a score just before halftime. Guy's 33-yard run set up McKee's 13-yard TD pass to Daniel with 50 seconds left.
On a frigid (19-degree wind chill) night, it took a while for Scott County to get its Wing-T ground game in gear. The Cardinals fumbled on their first two possessions, and they never did dominate Meade County's defense.
Scott County finished with 218 yards rushing and 71 passing. Guy led the ground game with 90 yards and Claussen added 86
McKee hit seven of nine passes for 71 yards and those two TDs to Daniel.
Meade County totaled 173 yards, 166 rushing. O'Brien led with 42 yards. Wilson hit one of two passes for seven yards.
The Green Wave's last-gasp at a comeback ended when Scott County's Tyler Carpenter got a clinching interception at midfield with 25 seconds left.
"We just couldn't get anything going offensively until late," Coach Larry Mofield said. "But our kids fought hard and we had an outstanding year. Twelve teams come up here, and six go home with a loss. But our kids are winners."
Scott County knows what it's like to lose a title game. It won a 2A championship in 1975, but since joining the big-school classification, it was hammered in the finals by St. Xavier in 2004 and Trinity in 2011.
Clay McKee played in that 62-21 loss to Trinity, but now he's replaced that bitter memory with a sweet one.
"This is the best feeling I've ever had," he said. "Winning the title with my dad is everything we dreamed of."
Saturday's other scores
2A: DeSales 34, Newport Cath. 26
4A: Collins 37, Highlands 34