|Blake Winslow. LJWorld.|
Where: Free State Athletic Stadium
Last Meeting: Free State defeated Olathe North, 34-28, in a week four thriller that went down to the wire.
The Firebirds are loaded across the board. Arguably their most talented player is senior Kyle McFarland who mans the quarterback position as well as one of the cornerback spots. At 6-foot-3 he's extremely difficulty to throw against on defense because he's so much taller than the prototypical corner. Also in the defensive secondary is safety Joe Dineen, one of the league's most violent hitters, and Demarko Bobo, a shutdown corner. Corban Schmidt is the team's leading tackler. His 93 tackles ranked fourth overall through the Sunflower League's regular season. Tye Hughes is a threat to take the ball the distance anytime he gets his hands on it, and running back TJ Cobbs has added 12 rushing touchdowns of his own this year. The Firebirds are also relentless pass rushers, with three players--Blake Winslow, Keith Loneker and Cody Stanclift--ranking among the league's top ten in sacks, and another in Fred Wyatt bringing the heat on every play.
The Eagles are one of the league's youngest teams. Early one they struggled to find an identity, falling to 0-4 on the season, but they've since responded winning winning three of their past five games including pulling a major upset against Olathe South last week. Olathe North goes as their sophomore running back Venus Triplett goes. He's joined in the backfield by fellow running back Elbert Johnson, who has plenty of speed to burn, and quarterback Dontez Sanchez who's done a great job managing the quarterback position since taking over mid-season. The wildcard? Keep an eye on sophomore tight end Josh Moore. At 6-5, 250-pounds, he's one of the league's most talented up-and-coming players. Olathe North has been using him more creatively in the latter portion of the season and it's worked very well.
These teams developed a minor rivalry in the late 2000s. In 2008, Free State defeated Olathe North, 10-6, in Sectional play in a defensive struggle. The Firebirds made their way to a state title appearance in the following weeks. In 2009, the teams met up again in Sectionals, but this time Olathe North had something to say about it. The Eagles thumped Free State, 41-28. In the victory, Olathe North ran the ball 63 times for 414 yards (247 from James Franklin) and did not throw one pass.
What to Expect
Two extremely confident teams. That's what you'll see on Friday night. Olathe North gave Free State everything they could handle in week four and you could make an argument it was the Firebirds' closest call outside of their loss to Olathe South in week three. Olathe North head coach Gene Wier is a savant when it when it comes to late-season play and he'll have something cooked up to give the Firebirds all they can handle. Free State, on paper, looks like the better team. They have more experience, more playmaking weapons and a ton of momentum. They just have to make sure they harness all of it in the right way, or they could easily be upset.
|Jordan Darling. LJWorld.|
Olathe East (5-4)
Last Meeting: SM East defeated Olathe East, 41-21, in week five.
Live Broadcast: SMEHarbinger.net
The running back/fullback combination of Hayden Frazier and Ryan Woodson is going to be key for the Hawks' successes Friday. The two have combined for 1,602 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season, so you'll know they'll be getting their carries this week. Jalen Branson is also an Olathe East skill position player to keep an eye on. He's rushed for over 200 yards and he's also developed into a standout in the secondary. Quarterback John Blazevic hasn't thrown the ball as much this season as he did last year, but he has great experience having led the Hawks to a Sub-State berth last season. Keep an eye on safety Al Smith as well. He's a big time hitter, but he absolutely cannot afford to let the SM East receivers get behind him in this game.
The Lancers are led on offense by quarterback and KU commit, Jordan Darling, and receiver Connor Rellihan. The two will connect on a variety of bubble screens, slip passes and comeback routes all night. They've been consistent on that every game this year. The player keeping the defenses honest by running the football will be Patrick Blackburn, a true power running back who is hard to bring down on first contact. Blackburn also starts on the Lancer's linebacking core which I would argue is the league's top unit. Led by David Stewart, the core also consists of his twin, Sam Stewart, Ryan Carter, and stud sophomore Kyle Ball in addition to Blackburn. Up front their top defensive lineman is Dominique Atkinson, who you could call one of the league's best defensive tackles. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has run the ball effectively against them this year. If I'm not mistaken, the only player to rush for over 100 meaningful yards (not 4th quarter yards against the second stringers) against their stout front eight was Gabe Guild in week one.
There really isn't much history between these two teams. A funny story: back in 2004, when I was a lowly freshman at SM West, our varsity team had just beat Free State in a Regional overtime game out at Haskell Stadium. The post-game jubilation was taken to another level when a student (who turned out to be an unreliable one) reported to the celebrating crowd that SM East had just defeated Olathe East in their Regional game (Olathe East was basically viewed as the team to beat in 6A in 2004 and that would have been an upset of colossal proportions). Which meant SM West would have had an easier route to the Sub-State game. On the drive home we passed the SM East players' bus and the dejected looks on their faces told another story. The jubilation was muted. Needless to say SM West ended up squaring off with Olathe East the next Friday. There's my awesome little story.
What to Expect
I'll sit right here and tell you this game's coming down to one thing: Olathe East's running game against SM East's rush defense. That's it, and that's all, and the rest is just for decoration. Olathe East probably has more momentum than SM East at this time, given the fact that they swept their district and looked great doing it, but it's playoff time and I'm sure SM East will be equally amped up. At the end of the day it's coming down to which side budges when Olathe East runs the football at SM East.
|Kharon Brown. LJWorld.|
Last Meeting: N/A. This is the first time these teams have met in the modern era.
The Trailblazers are led by arguably the best running back in Kansas City in Traevohn Wrench, and the crazy thing is that he's only a junior. He nearly capped 1,000 rushing yards in the last three games. For the season he rushed for 1,940 yards and 22 touchdowns on 207 carries. Because of a turf toe injury he didn't have more than 20 yards rushing after the first two games--so he's basically put up those numbers in seven games. I would venture to say he's pound-for-pound the best running back Johnson County has see since a guy named Darren Sproles. And that's not hyperbole. He's phenomenal. Gardner-Edgerton's quarterback, Jared Hobby, spends most of his time handing the ball off but he's still passed for over 1,100 yards on the season. His touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't great (11:10) which shows he's susceptible to tossing picks if you put pressure on him. But to make Gardner-Edgerton pass in the first place you have to shut down Wrench and nobody's been able to do that lately.
The Chesty Lions operated the Sunflower League's most prototypical version of a spread. Quarterback Brad Strauss is one the best players to have graced the league the past five years and he has all the tools to do anything on the field. The top three receivers for LHS are Erick Mayo, Drake Hofer and Will Thompson, each of whom offer a unique receiving style. Mayo and Thompson are more speed based, while Hofer is a great possession receiver. Tyrone Jenkins gets carries alongside Strauss out of the backfield, but LHS' focus is on the passing game. Defensively the Chesty Lions are led by their wild and crazy defensive tackle Kharon Brown. He's built like stump at 5-foot-10, 220 pounds, and his motor never stops running. He'll need to have a big day to slow down Wrench. Asaph Jewsome and Hunter Harrelson have been the team's leading tacklers through nine weeks. The secondary is led by the play of Mayo and Strauss.
These teams haven't met in the modern era so this will be the first of its kind. One unique perspective is that both schools can claim a Simone-winner among their ranks. In 1993, LHS' Jason Thoren led the Chesty Lions to a 6A state title and won the award in the process, recording 170 tackles in addition to rushing for 1,260 yards. Gardner-Edgerton boasts arguably the most talented all-around athlete in Kansas City history in Bubba Starling, the 2010 recipient of the award. Starling signed to play football at Nebraska, but ultimately decided to play for the Kansas City Royals when they drafted him fifth overall in the 2011 MLB draft and offered a $7.5 million signing bonus.
What to Expect
Not that they don't already, but LHS needs to come out with the goal to score on literally every possession. Gardner-Edgerton's defense isn't great, but they've faced a ton of spread offenses in the EKL and the Chesty Lions' attack will be nothing new for them. Gardner-Edgerton's rushing attack on the other hand has been a shocking revelation for the three Sunflower League teams who've faced it the past three weeks. This was evidenced by the amount of long touchdown runs Wrench was able to put up and the fact that he rushed for over 300 yards in each of those games. I have a strong feeling this will be a high-scoring affair and it could come down to who gets a defensive stop here or there. Another storyline is the Strauss and Wrench Simone campaigns. I think both players are close to being locks as finalists for the award, but the loser of this game will probably be eliminated from actual contention to win the award. All in all, if you like scoring, this should be the game for you.
|Reed Coda. Mid-Statesports.com|
SM West (8-1)
Where: SM South District Stadium
Last Meeting: These teams last met on November 7, 2008, in the Regional playoff round. BV Northwest won the game, 27-14.
The Vikings are going go as far as running back Brett Sterbach takes them. As the league's leading rusher with 1,485 yards, not to mention 17 touchdowns, Sterbach has been SM West's most consistent force all season. They'll need big games from him from here on out to do well. Quarterback AJ Verdini will also play a major role. If he can find his receivers with the rate of success he's been able to in the second half of the season the Vikings will do very well. He throws a tremendous deep ball and at 6-foot-5 he has no problem seeing down the field. His top target is Andre Maloney, but Joel Spiller is also great option out of the slot and receiver Ben Lake has come on strong late in the season. Up front the Vikings are led by offensive tackle/nose guard Austin Chambers. His size has given opposing lineman and linebackers trouble all season. Defensive end Lee Spight is one of the league's top pass rushers with five sacks, and he's backed up by linebackers Marquan Osbey, Rashaun Owens and Max Bullard, who all rank among the league's top eleven in tackles. The Vikings' secondary is led by Maloney as well as safety Kez Demby.
I've only seen the Huskies play once this season but it was pretty evident who their playmakers were. Their top receivers are Austin Moses and Jaqwan Stone. Those two players have combined for 884 receiving yards on 79 catches and 10 touchdowns. Both are very quick, very fast and can take the ball the distance on any play. The Huskies' top player overall is running back Reed Coda. He's carried the ball 221 times for 1,215 yards and 14 touchdowns. Like Moses and Stone, he's an extremely fast and shifty player. If the Viking defense doesn't do a good job of containing him they'll have plenty of problems.
I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a rivalry between these teams, because even though they haven't met in four years it seems like every time they play there's something on the line. Back in 2004 these two met up in district play, and BV Northwest, led by Brian Thies, torched SM West, 34-7, creating a situation where the Vikings had to win the next week to make the playoffs. In 2005 the two met up again in districts in a do-or-die situation for SM West, and the Vikings responded with a 17-7 victory in a game that was close throughout. The Vikings lost to the Huskies in 2007, when they elected to go for a two-point conversion and the win on their last offensive play of the game. Then, in 2008, undefeated SM West lost to a 2-7 BV Northwest team in a major Regional round upset.
What to Expect
By all means this is a revenge game for SM West, even though it's taking placing four years late. For that reason I expect SM West to come up pretty fired up and ready to play. BV Northwest runs a high-potent spread attack and it may take SM West's defense a little while to adjust to it, but I think the Vikings have the horses to slow it down eventually. BV Northwest will probably stack the box in attempt to make SM West rely on the passing game. It's not that SM West can't pass, but rather that BV Northwest would probably rather take their chances in coverage as opposed to letting Sterbach run all over their defense. It should be a fun game to watch as both teams boast quite a few playmakers.