Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Monumental Games: A Decade in the Sunflower League

The following data was comprised during the last decade, stretching from the 2002 season to the 2011 season.

Olathe North quarterback Dallas Browning led the Eagles to
a 10-8 victory over their bitter rivals Olathe East in this
matchup from 2002.
November 22, 2002
Olathe North 10, Olathe East 8

Olathe North was predicted to steamroll Olathe East in this Sub-State matchup, having previously crushed the Hawks 35-14 in a week seven game.  But it wouldn't be that easy.  Jeff Meyers' program was just coming into its own and this was the game where people kind of looked around and said, "yeah, Olathe East can play."  The game was a defensive struggle, with the 11-0 Olathe North doing all they could to keep their 36-game winning streak intact against the 8-3 Olathe East squad.  The game came down to a last second field goal attempt by Olathe East, which would have been the game-winner.  The kick was botched, however, and Olathe North won their third consecutive state championship the following weekend.  

September 4, 2003
SM North 7, Olathe North 6 

This loss, Olathe North's first in their previous 39 games, sent shockwaves through the league, Kansas and the Midwest.  Gene Wier had left for Texas following the 2002 season, and this game was John McCall's first as the head coach at Olathe North.  The game was as sloppy as they come, but SM North's wry head coach, Sam Brown, found a way to sneak a victory out from underneath Olathe North.  This marked the first time Olathe North had looked vulnerable in over three seasons, and set the tone for what proved to be one of the wildest seasons in Sunflower League history.

October 17, 2003
Olathe East 28, Olathe North 27 

Looking back it's still hard to tell whether or not Olathe East benefited from winning this game.  Sure, they snuck out a one-point victory over their crosstown rival and arguably the Midwest's most highly-touted program, but it may have gone to the Hawks' heads.  Olathe North dropped to 4-3 with the loss, while Olathe East pushed their record to 7-0.  The didn't meet again as many predicted they would in the Sub-State round of the playoffs.  No, Olathe East (who may have been licking their chops at the prospects of handing a Sub-State defeat to Olathe North) lost to an upstart Blue Valley North team in Sectionals.  Olathe North, left for dead at 4-3, reeled off six straight victories to end the season as the Class 6A state champions.

November 19, 2004
Olathe South 26, SM West 7

Moral victories are only for teams that lose more than they win, but I would make the case that this game was really a victory for both teams.  The previous year both squads had gone an ugly 2-7.  Neither team was predicted to do anything in 2004, despite the fact that both rosters returned great experience on both sides of the ball.  Low and behold the two teams nobody predicted to do anything both won nine games and found their way to this Sub-State matchup.  The game was closer than the final score indicated, but the really remarkable thing was the turnarounds both teams had made from the previous season.  Nowadays it's almost hard to fathom a team going from two wins in one season to nine or 10 the next the way both those units did.

November 18, 2005
Olathe East 22, Lawrence 18

This game had some unique storylines.  Both teams had over 10 victories and there was a ton of talent flying around at the skill positions (Derek Miller, Adam Parks, Dee Bell, Anthony Riley, Brandon Lassiter, Nathan Hickey and Nolan Kellerman to name a few).  There was also some junior high feud between the two clubs that apparently hadn't completely fizzled out by the time they were seniors in high school.  Lawrence jumped out to an early lead but Olathe East made a late comeback and won.  This was the kind of game you want to see in the Sub-State round--two truly dominant teams battling it out for supremacy.

November 17, 2006
SM West 31, Lawrence Free State 14 
A black and white photo memorializes the "Game of the
Century" in the Sunflower League as Free State quarterback
Ryan Murphy attempts to elude SM West linebacker
Andrew Kuhn.

If you didn't tune it to this game you really missed out, because you had every opportunity to.  It was the only time during the decade that two undefeated (11-0) teams from the league faced off in the Sub-State round.  The game featured six players who held FBS offers.  The Lawrence Journal World dedicated their entire week of sports coverage to the matchup, including several hour-long podcasts.  Metro Sports broadcast the game live.  Even the Kansas City Star used up nearly an entire page of the sports section previewing the game.  Billed as the "Game of the Century" in the Sunflower League, it lived up to the hype for the better part of three quarters.  The game was tied at 14 at halftime, but in the third quarter SM West broke things open.  A 47-yard touchdown run from Blake Lawrence pretty much ended Free State's comeback chances late.  Was it the "Game of the Century" in the league?  That's hard to say, but I've never seen that type of hype for any game since then.

November 7, 2008
Lawrence Free State 41, SM Northwest 21

It was truly a privilege being able to cover Free State's Camren Torneden as he was not only a great player but also one of the most friendly and humble athletes I've encountered since I've covered the league.  Torneden's huge day against SM Northwest set the tone for his team's run to the 6A state title that year.  Trailing 14-0 in the first quarter, Torneden and running back Chucky Hunter took their games to another level.  Torneden carried the ball 14 times for 256 yards while Hunter added 191 yards on 29 carries.  Torneden combined for five touchdowns in the game, the first of several incredible games he put together that year in the playoffs, sparking one of the biggest late season runs we saw from any team over the decade (highlight video available midway down on the left side of the page).

November 18, 2011
Olathe South 38, Olathe East 21 

The old adage that it's hard to beat a good team twice especially rang true before Olathe South matched up with Olathe East this past year in the Sub-State round.  The Falcons had pounded the Hawks 36-18 just weeks earlier, but there were no guarantees that they'd be able to repeat the feat.  And it looked like Olathe East was really picking up steam for this game.  Low and behold, Olathe South had no problems, shutting down the Hawks in nearly identical fashion in a 38-21 victory.  The game was especially monumental because Olathe South won the 6A state championship the next week, their first in three attempts in school history.

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