|Olathe South has ended SM East's seasons in the playoffs|
the past two years. PVPost.com
Olathe South (3-0) at SM East (3-0) at SM North District Stadium
The schedule makers really came down hard on the defending 6A champs, as several Tweeters pointed out to me. Olathe South is in the midst of a brutal three-game road stretch. They were "rewarded" for their road victory against the second ranked Free State with another road game, this time against undefeated SM East. They go on the road again next week to Lawrence to take on the fourth ranked LHS. That being said, this Thursday treat should be a phenomenal game and there are plenty of storylines.
Olathe South has a nine-game winning streak going, and the Falcons, much like last year, seem destined to win every time they set step onto a football field. They have a moxie about them which comes with winning a state title. SM East on the other hand has really exceeded preseason expectations and looks like a team equipped to make a lengthy playoff run. The Lancers' new starters have picked up right where their predecessors left off, and Jordan Darling's ability to distribute the ball with precision is making life painful for opponents.
There are two battles within the battle to keep an eye on. The first is how well Olathe South's rushing attack, spearheaded by Russell White, Chase Hanson and Matt Elliott does against the SM East linebackers, led by the Stewart twins, Sam and David, Patrick Blackburn, Ryan Carter and Kyle Ball. I've witnessed both groups on several occasions and both are flat out nasty on the football field. I think this matchup--how SM East's linebackers can do against Olathe South's running backs/wings--is going to determine the outcome of the game more than anything.
The second battle within the battle to look out for is SM East's passing attack against Olathe South's secondary. SM East is arguably the league's best passing team and Olathe South had some struggles defending the deep ball against Free State last week. Darling will primarily distribute the ball to three players--Connor Rellihan, Chrisitan Blessen and David Sosna. Olathe South's secondary, led at the corner positions by Elliott and Thomas McCue, will really have to buckle down to keep the Lancers from running their heralded deep fade routes, crossing patterns and bubble screens successfully.
More than anything it looks like we're going to have a great game on our hands Thursday night. Both teams will have plenty of support from their student sections and respective fan bases and it should be a raucous atmosphere. The winner of this game will almost certainly become the favorite to take the top seed in East Class 6A come playoff time.
SM West (2-1) at Olathe East (1-2) at ODAC
There has been a quasi-rivalry building over the past decade between these schools and this game should help to fuel the fire. With the exception of a few defensive letdowns, SM West has looked pretty solid all-around this season. Running back Brett Sterbach is establishing himself as one of the league's most potent players and he's going to get as many carries as he can handle this Friday. The real big storyline, however, is that the Vikings could push Olathe East to 1-3. That poor of a start to a season is nearly unheard of if you've followed the Hawks' successes as long as I have. To avoid a third loss Olathe East is going to have to force SM West to pass the football. The offensive passing game has been SM West's achilles heel this year and if it gets exposed they could be in trouble.
SM Northwest (1-2) at SM South (2-1) at SM South District Stadium
The Shawnee Mission School District is good for at least one epic inner-district game every season. This could be it. But several things are going to have to happen. SM Northwest, for one, must find a way to shut down SM South's running back Gabe Guild who is averaging 198 yards rushing per game. That's a tall order for any team. But the Cougars did a decent job containing Olathe North's Venus Triplett in week one, and Jason Randall didn't exactly run free against them last week. We know SM Northwest's defense is up to the task. The Cougars must also find some success on offense. They've only scored five touchdowns in three games and it's really held them back. If those two things happen, we have a dogfight on our hands.
Lawrence (2-1) at SM North (0-3) at SM North District Stadium
Teams have been shredding the SM North defense all season and with them facing Brad Strauss this week I don't expect that to make a sudden movement in the opposite direction. SM North's best chance of hanging in this game is by running the football play after play, with Henry Bell and Jesse Patterson. Running down the clock and coming up with a few turnovers on defense is going to be their best chance at success. Lawrence has looked great since their week one home loss to SM West. The Chesty Lions might be able to use this game as a chance to work on things they haven't done well in preparation for their week five clash with Olathe South. But they can't look too far ahead--anything can happen in the Sunflower League.
Olathe North (0-3) at Lawrence Free State (2-1) at Free State Athletic Stadium
Unless Free State has a total letdown after playing Olathe South, I expect the Firebirds to do quite well in this game. SM East had a ton of success throwing the football against Olathe North in week two and I expect Free State to approach this game with a similar attack. The Eagles have been a maligned bunch this year. They're young, they're adjusting to a new coaching system and they're playing one of the league's toughest schedules. That doesn't translate to success early on.
Leavenworth (2-1) at Olathe Northwest (0-3) at CBAC
Their records don't show it but I think these two teams are about neck-and-neck in terms of quality this year. Olathe Northwest has been punished early on by a difficult schedule but this looks like a great opportunity for them to shed the goose egg in the win column. First, the Ravens are playing at CBAC for the fourth week in a row (bizarre scheduling idiosyncrasies this year) against an evenly matched opponent. Their offense has also started to click. Those two points seem like a recipe for success. On the other side of the ball, Leavenworth may or may not realize the historic magnitude of what their season could become if they take care of these next couple games. A win would mark just the second time in the past 15 years that the program has won three or more games in a season. This has the makings of a competitive battle, we'll see how it plays out.