OLIVE HILL As a seventh-grade ball boy for West Carter in 2015, Orry Perry paid wide-eyed witness to Ralph Wages' jarring hit on punt coverage against Fleming County, Braden Brown's big game in the Comets' first-ever playoff win against Sheldon Clark and a furious comeback that fell just short in the second round against Lawrence County.
That season, which included West Carter's first district title, was a breakthrough. Perry hopes this season is a foundation.
"We're trending upward in the last few years, and this year, we're setting the groundwork for what we think will eventually be one of those really premier programs in this area and in Kentucky," the Comets' junior quarterback said. "The community, they're really happy about that and they see that, I think. It's great for them, great for us; we love it and they love us, so it's a really good time right now."
Perry's passing prowess in setting the Comets' single-season aerial yardage record as a first-year starting signal caller has helped facilitate that good time, which continues Friday in West Carter's first-ever state quarterfinal at Beechwood.
Not that you would know it to ask Perry himself about it.
Just as he spreads the ball around on the field, he distributes the credit off it.
"We've got guys out on the perimeter that love to go make plays, and they want the ball," Perry said. "We don't look for somebody else to go make a play, and they don't either. They want the ball and they want to go make plays. Our linemen, they take pride in pass blocking. One of them misses a block for a sack, and they about fist-fight on the field. You're trying to break up a fist fight."
Barely pausing to breathe, Perry continues gushing, "We've had some success throwing the ball this year, but a lot of that comes off the run game, too. Having a guy like Leetavious (Cline), people worry about him a lot more than they do me and the receivers anyway, so that opens up a lot of great opportunities."
Perry indeed walked into a great situation. He's in the backfield with Cline, a slippery, speedy back who has 882 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns and 6.3 yards per carry. Out wide are Jackson Bond (539 yards receiving, 10 touchdowns) and Blake McGlone (516 yards, two TDs) as part of a receiving corps that has six members with double-digit receptions. Don't forget the decorated, dedicated "Hawg Squad" up front that has only allowed four sacks.
With those personalities and talent, Perry has been overlooked, West Carter coach Daniel Barker suggested.
"He's kinda the forgotten guy in our offense," Barker said. "People talk about LT and Jackson and our line, and you know, we've got pretty good quarterback play here, too."
To the tune of 1,513 yards, 21 touchdowns, eight interceptions and the confidence of his coach to add a run-pass option component to the Comets offense.
"Orry's always been a pretty cerebral quarterback," Barker said. "His family's put a lot of time into football, and ever since he's been here, he's always asking questions and watching film. Once he started playing, we found out what he could do and what he could handle, and he's got a really good memory, too. We can put a lot on his shoulders and he does a really good job for us."
Never better than Friday night in the Class 2A, District 8 championship game against Shelby Valley. Perry threw five touchdown passes as West Carter scored 50 unanswered points to beat the Wildcats, 50-12.
Shelby Valley, according to Perry, played Cover 4 defense -- shifting four defensive backs deep to take away long passes. Perry sees that as respect for the Comets' big-play ability, but West Carter identified, adjusted and feasted underneath.
"We were able to hit Leetavious on a post route out of the backfield on one of those, they didn't see that coming, and Blake caught a slant across the middle to get us all started, and he had a great run after the catch," Perry said. "We got in our bone formation, which is two receivers and the rest of us are in the box, and they gave Jackson a lot of one-on-one opportunities out there, and he came down with three touchdowns."
That, and West Carter's defensive adjustments after giving up 12 quick points to shut Shelby Valley down, send the Comets to Fort Mitchell on Friday night.
Perry has a personal connection to history-laden Beechwood, which won the state title in Class A the last three years before moving to Class 2A in offseason realignment. Perry's uncle, Kelly Perry, was a freshman assistant coach and advance scout for the Tigers from 2004-2010. In that role, he won two state title rings, one of which is now in Orry's possession, Kelly said.
Kelly Perry is a 1996 West Carter alumnus. As a junior running back/linebacker, he was part of the school's first playoff team in 1994. Those Comets were dubbed "The Dirty Two Dozen and Two" in an Ashland Daily Independent article, he fondly recalled, because their roster numbered 26 players.
Kelly, who now resides in Rock Hill, South Carolina, doesn't think he'll be able to make it in for the game due to his job with Duke Energy. He is excited, though, to see his two worlds collide.
"To say now, the school that I coached at and the school that's my alma mater, and really proud of for what they've been able to accomplish for the last 10 years or so, will play, it's pretty cool," Kelly Perry said. "It's not something I can put a lot of words to, other than, I'm really proud of them and looking forward to watching that game online."
Kelly and Orry did get to discuss the specter of a West Carter-Beechwood game.
"We talked this week," Orry said. "He came in last weekend actually, so I hung out with him quite a bit. We talked for a couple hours about it."
Beechwood (7-5) is making its 37th appearance in the state quarterfinals since 1972, according to Tigers athletic director Ryan Booth. West Carter is playing in that round for the first time.
And the Comets (9-3) are fired up about it.
"It's pretty exciting," senior linebacker Tristen Jordan said. "It's something new we haven't done, and it's a new team we haven't played before. It's pretty exciting."
West Carter views Friday as an opportunity to represent itself, and northeastern Kentucky, strongly on a big stage.
"We've not been a historically great program, we all know that," Perry said. "But we're trying to change that. We've had a pretty good season. We've won eight of our last nine games. We're rolling right now; we feel like we're peaking and that we're one of the best teams in the area and in 2A. We feel like we belong up there."
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