|SMW's Brett Sterbach. Elaine Ferguson.|
****Olathe East extended their winning streak to five games with a victory against a very good SM East club on Friday. The Hawks, who began the season 1-4, have done a complete 180 and are playing as well as any team remaining. Also, their victory guaranteed a winning season--the program's 13th in a row, which is the longest streak of winning seasons in the league.
****Free State's defense was nearly as impressive as their offense on Friday. When the Firebirds' first-stringers were in during the first half they held Olathe North to just two pass completions, 12 run plays in which Olathe North didn't go for more than two yards, 119 yards of total offense and zero offensive points.
****The Sunflower League combined to go 2-0 in Regionals against non-Sunflower League opponents, meaning an SL team will represent East 6A in the state title game in two and a half weeks.
****SM West's Wildcat formation, featuring Brett Sterbach and Andre Maloney, was dominant, and basically ran circles around Blue Valley Northwest's defense when the Vikings decided to use it. It'll be interesting to see if they use the formation much against Lawrence.
****SM East was only able to muster seven points in their loss to Olathe East. The Lancers' offense turned the ball over twice deep in Olathe East territory in the fourth quarter and looked lost through much of the game.
****The city of Lawrence will be hosting two playoff games of epic magnitude on Friday--not to mention the fact that the Kansas men's basketball team plays their first game of the regular season that night, with a 7 p.m. tipoff. That's great for Lawrence residents, but terrible for all those commuting to the games along K-10. All I can say is leave very early, because the bottleneck created on K-10 by the one-lane squeeze just past I-435 will not be friendly for those who plan to leave 30 minutes before kickoff.
****Olathe North surrendered 38 first half points to Free State. Granted, the Firebirds are on fire right now, but giving up six first half touchdowns is nearly unheard of.
****Brad Strauss lost two fumbles on LHS' final two offensive possessions against Gardner-Edgerton. It's a miracle the Chesty Lions were able to sneak out a victory with those two potentially costly turnovers.
Regional Round Player of the Week
Brett Sterbach, SM West: The Sterbanator carried the ball 24 times for 217 yards and two touchdowns on Friday. His 63-yard run up the gut on the Vikings' second play from scrimmage basically killed the will of the Blue Valley Northwest defense. He also became the third SM West running back in the past nine seasons to rush for over 1,600 yards in a single season.
The Remaining Four
1. Lawrence Free State (9-1): The Firebirds have the best collection of talent in terms of speed, size and playmaking ability of any of the four teams remaining. What's scary is that their defense is now playing as well as their offense. If they can continue to play at a high level the way they have in recent weeks (and most of the season for that matter) they're going to be very tough to beat--for any team in the state.
2. SM West (9-1): If the Vikings are going to make it to state they're going to have to continue to rely on hard-nosed power football, aimed directly at crushing the will of their opponents. Their core--lineman, linebackers, running backs and fullbacks--need to continue to be relentless because that's the biggest advantage the Vikes have on the remaining teams they play/could play.
3. Lawrence (8-2): The Chesty Lions can breathe a sigh of relief. Yes they gave up over 300 rushing yards to Traevohn Wrench, and yes they nearly fumbled the game away (twice), but come this time of the year it's all about surviving. Plus, you can't discount how impressive it was for the Chesty Lions to go on the road to a hostile and unfamiliar environment in Gardner and come out with the win.
4. Olathe East (6-4): "State for Nate." That's really all you have to say about this group of Hawks. After a terrible start to the season they've been on a roll, and the victory over SM East was their most impressive of the season. The Hawks have appeared in the Sub-State round in each of the past two seasons. Can they make it three in a row? They have the swagger and motivation to do it. That I'm sure of.
Down and Out
SM East (7-3): The Lancers didn't close out the season with the boom they began it with. Regardless, they were one of the league's most competitive teams week in and week out. They have some major holes to fill in the offseason--namely refilling their linebacking core and developing a new starting quarterback--but head coach Chip Sherman has proven he'll find and develop the talent necessary towards making the Lancers competitive.
Olathe North (3-7): Don't be fooled by the Eagles' poor record. They're a team and a program on the rise and I'm pretty certain they'll be amongst the league's top three or four teams in 2013. They return a ton of talent and year two of Gene Wier's second tenure will likely see the program's return to dominant form.
It is awesome to the old-school defensive junkie in me to see the FS D getting the props they deserve. Unlike most people that go to games to watch the ball move around, I watch the line of scrimmage and defenses move and adjust. The FS D has made quick adjustments early in games for the last month and shut teams down.
With the lone exception of a fantastic LAW offense, nobody has scored against the FS 1st string since week 4. All other scores have come against special teams (2 returns) and late, meaningless scores against reserves. I expect OE to come out and try different looks to gain an advantage, but I expect the FS D to make adjustments as needed and control the game. Go 'Birds!
Free State probably has the league's best secondary. They also have a very fast and aggressive front eight. Combine those two elements and you get one heck of a defense. We'll have to see if Olathe East's slow and methodical running approach takes its toll on the Firebirds.
Since when the Law Free State's a undefeated team? Last time I check they were 9-1.
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