|Quarterback Brad Strauss, left, and|
receiver Erick Mayo have been one of
the league's most dangerous duos this
Where: Lawrence High Stadium
Last Meeting: SM West defeated LHS, 20-14, in week one.
Computer Spread: SM West + 7.1
The Vikings, who've won eight straight games, are looking for the program's first Sub-State berth since 2006. A victory would also mark the program's first 10-win season since that Sub-State run as well. When you watch the Vikings play keep an eye on the Bully Bros., a.k.a. middle linebackers Marquan Osbey (86 tackles), Max Bullard (85 tackles) and Rashaun Owens (78 tackles). SM West's defense is set up to funnel all running plays to those three, as well as blitz with those guys anytime the quarterback breaks the pocket. Their ability to stop the run this week won't be nearly as important as putting pressure on LHS when the Chesty Lions pass the football. Coverage will also be key. The Vikings will most likely rely on their top corner, Andre Maloney, to cover the Chesty Lions' biggest receiving threat, Erick Mayo. Other members of the secondary, including Ben Lake, Kez Demby and outside linebackers Cooper Arner and Joel Spiller will also have to play a great game to slow down LHS' constant crossing routes and quick screens. Offensively, you can't talk about the Vikings without mentioning running back Brett Sterbach. He now leads the league in rushing with 1,702 yards and he's a pain to tackle because he's hard to see behind the line (he stands 5-foot-7) and he has a very low center of gravity. Quarterback AJ Verdini will be key. He must complete his intermediate to long passes to keep the LHS defense from loading up the box.
With a combined 37 passing and rushing touchdowns this year, LHS quarterback Brad Strauss will have the full attention of the Viking defense. Strauss' dual-threat ability is so tough for the oppositions to handle because he can chuck the ball with the best but he's also among the league's fastest players. Top receivers Erick Mayo and Drake Hofer will be used on most of the outside routes, while Will Thompson has become the league's premier slot receiver and he's great at finding holes in a secondary. There's also the constant threat of running back Tyrone Jenkins taking a draw handoff and busting loose for 15 yards the way he so often does. The Chesty Lions' defense, which is headed up by the ferocious defensive tackle Kharon Brown and run-stuffing linebackers Asaph Jewsome and Hunter Haralson, did well against all-everything running back Traevohn Wrench last week. Granted, Wrench rushed for over 300 yards, but it was on 50 carries and his six-yard per carry average was quite pedestrian compared to what he'd previously done. The Chesty Lions' defense undoubtedly has the confidence to stop Sterbach this week and it will be their main point of emphasis all game. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they completed crowded the box from the get-go, hoping to make the Vikings beat them with Verdini's arm.
One name. Dick Purdy. The legendary coach spent time at both SM West and LHS, winning state titles with both schools. Purdy, who last coached at LHS in 1998, won a state title at SM West in 1972, and state titles at LHS in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1995. When he retired, Purdy had accumulated a record of 270-138-5 in 40 seasons of being a head coach at the high school level.
What to Expect
This game went down the wire in week one, with SM West making three redzone stands in a row to keep LHS off the scoreboard at the end of the game. Despite the hurricane conditions in that one, Strauss still managed to pass for 195 yards on the Vikes' defense. He hasn't been shut down all season and I wouldn't expect that to suddenly change--he's going to get his yards and his touchdowns, it's more a matter of whether or not SM West can limit LHS' offensive possessions. SM West has developed more of an identity over that time period, mixing in a solid passing game with powerful rushing attack. The Vikings will stick to their M.O. in this game, hoping to keep the ball out of Strauss' hands while wearing down the LHS defense. Third down conversions will be key to whether or not that happens. Another noteworthy stat: these teams are a combined 16-2 since their week one battle.
|Olathe East safety Al Smith, center, nearly decapitated|
a SM East receiver last week. KC Star.
Where: Free State Athletic Stadium
Last Meeting: These two teams last played on November 5, 2010, also known as The Comeback game.
Computer Spread: Free State + 9.6
Believe it or not, Olathe East is one win away from making Sub-State for the third consecutive season. This after the team began the year 1-4, with losses to Olathe South, SM West, SM East and Lawrence (those losses don't look so bad now). The Hawks' offensive approach is simple: Run the football. Against SM East last week running back Hayden Frazier toted the rock 37 times for 156 yards and a touchdown. Frazier, combined with bruising fullback Ryan Woodson, made life miserable for the SM East defense. And the Hawks just continued running the football, over and over again, until the clock ran out and they'd picked up a nice 10-point victory. Quarterback John Blazevic has the ability to pass the ball well, but given the fact that Olathe East hasn't let him loose in the passing game all season I don't see that changing this late. Defensively the Hawks two standouts are safety Al Smith and linebacker Ryan Ahlgren. Besides that the defense is made up of relative "unknowns," but they played great together as a unit and they have all year. Last thing--keep an eye on Olathe East's Jalen Branson. He's really emerged as one of the league's top sophomores in the latter portion of the season and he has the ability to make a big play at any moment.
The Firebirds are playing with as much confidence as any team in the state. Olathe North came out firing and laying some big hits last week, but it didn't even momentarily faze Free State. They kept on rolling and by halftime the game was virtually over. This confidence all begins with their quarterback/cornerback Kyle McFarland. It seems like over 80% of his passes are rollouts--when I saw this earlier in the year I thought it might come back to hurt the team offensively. But as the year has progressed it seems like it's actually been very effective in that McFarland can use his speed to get closer to the line of scrimmage for passes or use it to gain quick yardage if nobody is open or the pass rush is heavy. Running back TJ Cobbs, probably one of the more underrated skill position players in the league, had a big game against Olathe North and his improved play has made Free State even more dangerous. And, as always, keep an eye on the Firebirds' assortment of big-play threats not named McFarland or Cobbs, ranging from Tye Hughes to Blake Winslow to Khadre Lane.
My article earlier in the week basically outlined the recent playoff history between these two teams. One thing we know is that whenever they match up it seems like we get to see a great game. Interestingly enough, the head coaches of both teams, Jeff Meyers for Olathe East and Bob Lisher for Free State, are the two longest tenured head coaches in the Sunflower League. Meyers has been the had man at Olathe East since 1992 (21 seasons) while Lisher has been with Free State since 1997 (16 seasons). Both were named head football coach at their respective schools when the schools opened, and both have remained head coach ever since.
What to Expect
For the second week in a row Olathe East will be facing a team that likes the pass the football, and for the eleventh week in a row the Hawks will stick to their bread and butter of running the football, avoiding giving up big plays on defense, draining the clock and keeping the score low. Free State, for all intents and purposes, will be doing everything in their power to break the game open. Olathe East won't be able to keep up with the Firebirds if it becomes a scoring battle. But keep in mind, Free State's possessions will be limited. If they turn the ball over in crucial situations (like SM East did against Olathe East) there's no guarantee they'll have the time to score and make up for the mistakes. Obviously the Firebirds are the favorite to win, but this is an angry Olathe East team that's come out with a chip on their shoulder the past five weeks.