|Tye Hughes. LJWorld.
SM East (5-0) at Lawrence Free State (4-1) at Free State Athletic Stadium
Watch the Game Live: SME Harbinger
The sixth game of the week takes us back to Lawrence, this time to Free State High School, where the undefeated Lancers of SM East face off against the Free State Firebirds. What's there to like about this game? Well, just about everything.
Let's start off with the Free State offense versus the SM East defense. Kyle McFarland is the most dynamic quarterback the SM East defense will have faced this season. And he's not your typically drop back passer--in fact over 75% of his passes are rollouts--and he's really going to put the SM East pass defense to the test. The matchup I'm looking forward to seeing is how Free State receiver Tye Hughes performs against the cornerback version of SM East's Connor Rellihan. And you can't talk about SM East's defense without mentioning their linebacking core, which is probably the best in the league. Free State is going to have a tough time running the football (like everyone has) and it will be interesting to see how McFarland performs when he's forced to rely more on his arm.
When SM East has the ball expect the Lancers to set up the run with the pass. In recent weeks they've had a ton of success with airing it out early then hitting up defenses with draws from quarterback Jordan Darling and running back Patrick Blackburn. The pass setting up the run has been a staple of the Chip Sherman era and when it's successful it throws defenses for a loop. But the question is whether or not Darling will be able to distribute the ball well enough to establish a rhythm in the passing game. Free State's secondary is led by McFarland and Demarko Bobo and may be the best in the league when it comes to forcing turnovers. Stay tuned for an excellent matchup this Friday in Lawrence.
SM North (0-5) at Olathe Northwest (1-4) (Thursday Night Game) at CBAC
I think both teams are happy with this draw the week before district play begins. For Olathe Northwest, if they come away with a victory it will make two straight wins, and while that isn't super impressive it is something positive to build off as they enter the most crucial stretch of the season. Likewise, for SM North this would be a great opportunity to sneak out a victory and gain some form of playoff hope as they enter districts. Olathe Northwest has only won one game and the Ravens have proven to be very weak against the run, SM North's forte, as evidenced by the fact that two running backs (Olathe East's Hayden Frazier and Leavenworth's Randall) had career games against them this season. The Ravens will be favored to win, but it would be great to see a close contest here.
Lawrence (4-1) at SM South (3-2) at SM South District Stadium
Two players rated in the Top 5 Player Ratings, Lawrence's Brad Strauss and SM South's Gabe Guild will go head-to-head in the Metro Sports Game of the Week which will be broadcast live to the metro. LHS is coming off a huge victory last week over Olathe South and the Chesty Lions' main nemesis will be the letdown factor. The last time they received this much hype they let their guard down as SM West came to Lawrence and beat them by six points. SM South will be doing anything in their power to get Guild into the open field. Their best chance at victory is wearing down the LHS defense (and the clock) to the point that the game comes down to who makes fewer mistakes. Will that be enough? It's hard to say with Strauss in the game. Even with mistakes, he's proven time and again that he's like a surgeon on the offensive side of the ball and LHS can strike at any time from anywhere on the field.
SM West (4-1) at Leavenworth (3-2) at Leavenworth Stadium
SM West running back Brett Sterbach performed better than Guild last week, let's see if he can do it again this time against Leavenworth's top dog Jason Randall. Last season these teams played twice, with SM West winning both games by a combined score of 93-21. I don't expect this game to be nearly as lopsided in either direction, but it could happen if Leavenworth plays the way they did last week in their 26-point loss to Olathe North. I think you could argue that from a philosophical standpoint this game will be more essential to the Leavenworth than SM West, in that Leavenworth squares off with LHS and Free State the following two weeks (both district games). If they play poorly in this game there's little hope they will all of a sudden turn it around with those two forces on schedule.
SM Northwest (1-4) at Olathe South (3-2) at ODAC
There not a whole lot to dissect here: Loaded defending state champion draws three of the league's best teams in a three week stretch, all on the road, and finishes 1-2 in those games; team returns to the friendly confines of their home stadium to take on a team that's amidst a four-game losing streak. I'd be shocked if Olathe South doesn't come out with guns blazing in this game. That being said, if Olathe South doesn't have a dominant performance it might be a microcosm of their forecast for the remainder of the season.
Olathe North (1-4) at Olathe East (1-4) at CBAC
Typically these teams would be 4-1 apiece (or better) at this juncture in the season. Regardless, there's been no love lost with these rivals. Neither team has league title hopes, or playoff chances on the line yet--but there are bragging rights at stake and everyone wants to enter district play coming off a victory. I'm looking to see how Olathe North running back Venus Triplett performs. He's naturally been getting better every week and let's not forget, he's only a sophomore. The whispers are that he's going to be the league's next great back and this would be the perfect time for him to breakout and set the tone for what's to come.