|An infamous picture from the inaugural game between Free|
State and Lawrence High in 1997. Lawrence Journal World.
Lawrence Free State (7-1) at Lawrence (7-1) at Lawrence High Stadium
The Battle for Lawrence has arrived. The thin red line separating the schools (also known as 15th Street) has grown especially thick this week leading up to the rivalry game. You could make the argument that it's the best regular season game of the year in the Sunflower League and it's undoubtedly a tremendous segue from the regular season into the Kansas 6A playoffs.
If you're looking for positional battles this game has them all. LHS quarterback Brad Strauss is one of the leading contenders for the Simone Award, boasting 31 combined touchdowns and 2,232 yards of total offense. Free State's quarterback, Kyle McFarland, has been dominant as well on offense (18 combined touchdowns and 1,642 yards of total offense) but he's also made a huge mark leading the Free State secondary. McFarland leads the league in interceptions with four, amidst a secondary that has combined for 10 interceptions. It's also important to note that Strauss plays defense as well, and he's totaled two defensive interceptions of his own.
There's not much of an offensive drop off outside of the quarterbacks. Free State features four of the league's best skill position players in Tye Hughes, Demarko Bobo, TJ Cobbs and Joe Dineen, all four of whom can take the ball the distance anytime they get their hands on it. Those four have combined for 32 touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams.
LHS probably has the most talented receiving core in the league, led by Will Thompson (509 yards and three touchdowns), Erick Mayo (438 yards and eight touchdowns) and Drake Hofer (409 yards and five touchdowns). In addition, LHS brings Tyrone Jenkins out of the backfield, and he's rushed for seven touchdowns and just under 500 yards to compliment Strauss' rushing efforts.
Free State has two of the league's leaders in tackles in Corban Schmidt (84) and Keith Loneker (65), while LHS' relatively balanced defense is led by two of their top tacklers, Hunter Harrelson (63) and Asaph Jewsome (55). And you can't forget to talk about their lineman. LHS' Kharon Brown has a motor like the Tasmanian Devil on the defensive side of the ball, while Free State is bolstered by the presence of their two most outstanding lineman, Cody Stanclift and Fred Wyatt.
It's going to be a great game, maybe the best ever between the two teams. A Free State victory would earn the Firebirds the top overall seed in Kansas 6A East. An LHS victory would mean the number two overall seed and at least a share of the Sunflower League championship for the first time since 1993. Plenty is at stake, regardless of the fact that they've both qualified for the playoffs.
SM South (4-4) at Olathe East (4-4) at CBAC
If it weren't for the Battle in Lawrence this would be the game of the week. Olathe East has secured a playoff spot, but this game is huge for them in terms of building momentum heading into the playoffs. For SM South this is a win or go home situation. The Raiders sit at -5 in the district standings with a 1-1 record. That's one point ahead of Blue Valley Northwest, also 1-1, who sits at -6. Basically SM South can guarantee themselves a playoff berth if they beat Olathe East by 13 or more points. Any win margin below that and they won't be guaranteed a playoff berth because Blue Valley Northwest has the head-to-head advantage and would be selected if there is a tie in point margin, or obviously a Blue Valley Northwest point advantage. SM South isn't known as a big-time scoring offense so it's going to be like watching a chess match as they attempt to gain a lead and then potentially a 13-point lead. Perhaps the biggest wildcard is the health of SM South running back Gabe Guild. If he's not fully healthy it's going to be very difficult for the Raiders to do much offensively, let alone win by 13 points.
Olathe North (2-6) at Olathe South (5-3) at ODAC
This is also a win or go home situation. The only difference between this one and the aforementioned game is that neither team has secured anything. They both need to obtain a victory to advance and point differentials will have no impact. Gardner-Edgerton (2-0) has sealed a playoff berth and their opponent Olathe Northwest (0-2) has been eliminated from playoff contention. So the winner of this game will be the second team in the district with two wins, guaranteeing a playoff berth. What to watch out for? Keep an eye on the intensity level Olathe South comes to play with. The Falcons haven't played at a high level the past five weeks and if they expect to get through this game and suddenly flip the switch on in the playoffs they may be in for a rude awakening. With a roster led by players like Remington Whitley, Frank Seurer, Matt Elliott and Braden Smith there's really no reason they should have lost three games this year. On the other side of the ball, Gene Wier has his Olathe North club in a position where they can make the playoffs despite a pretty up-and-down campaign the previous eight weeks. The Eagles rely heavily on their running backs Venus Triplett and Elbert Johnson, and if those guys can break some big runs early watch out. If you remember, this game was a very touchy subject in the early 2000s. In 2000 and 2001, Olathe South and Olathe North met with undefeated records, and on both occasions the Falcons lost and were left out of the playoffs (back then only one team advanced out of district). We'll see if this game builds on that history in any way--for either team.
Olathe Northwest (2-6) at Gardner-Edgerton (5-3) at Gardner-Edgerton
As I mentioned earlier, I hope Olathe Northwest comes out guns blazing in this game and puts up a great final showing on their 2012 campaign. The Ravens have been eliminated from playoff contention. Gardner-Edgerton on the other hand has already claimed a playoff berth and a district championship. A 13-point loss wouldn't even change that. What I'm interested in is what the Trailblazers decide to do with their star running back, Traevohn Wrench. His surge over the past five weeks has put him smack dab in the middle of the Simone Award talk and sitting him in this game (because the result has virtually no impact) could adversely impact his chances at the Simone Award. My guess is that we see him for a half of work before he sits the second half, just to keep him fresh (and in the Simone talk). Does Olathe Northweset have a funky defensive scheme to slow him down? It's doubtful the way their defense has performed this year (and given that fact that Wrench has ripped two Sunflower League defenses to shreds already) but it's worth keeping an eye on. The only opponent that's been able to slow Wrench this year was turf-toe.
SM North (0-8) at SM East (6-2) at SM South District Stadium
The only way this game turns out to be more than a blip on the district radar is if SM North can somehow pull out a victory and and get rid of the goose egg in their win column. That seems unlikely at this point time, but if the Indians did win, and SM Northwest beats SM West, then SM East would be eliminated from making the playoffs. I'll be interested to see if SM East works on establishing more of a running game in this one. The Lancers ran the ball extremely well in the early portion of the season with running back Patrick Blackburn but they've moved away from the running game in recent weeks and it seems to be hurting them. Look for SM East to spend much of the night touching up things here and there in the hopes of getting ready for what will be a challenging Regional Round playoff matchup.
SM West (7-1) at SM Northwest (2-6) at SM North District Stadium
As outlined in the previous game preview between SM North and SM East, it appears as though SM Northwest is close to being eliminated from playoff contention, unless they beat SM West and SM North pulls out a miracle victory over SM East. But the hope is there, and those associated with both these schools know that their is a rivalry that exists, although it's not as formal as say SM West's game against SM East. On the other sidelines, SM West has clinched a playoff spot. Keep an eye on how many carries SM West running back Brett Sterbach has in the game. I don't expect him to play much beyond the first half, assuming the Vikings can grab a comfortable lead. Sterbach will be key to SM West's efforts in the playoffs and the wear and tear of running the football really begins to take its toll this time of year.
Leavenworth (3-5) at Wyandotte (5-3) a Wyandotte
We talk about moral victories and program-building seasons and why those may seem like cliche they really do hold true. Leavenworth's playoff hopes have been eliminated but that shouldn't cloud up what has been one of the program's best seasons in years. The Pioneers can improve on the final outcome when they face Wyandotte this Friday. The game has no meaning beyond the final win/loss column, but a 4-5 record for Leavenworth would be a huge building point heading into the offseason. The program has only had one season of four or more wins in the last 15 years that my archives date back to.