Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sunflower League Week Four Game Previews

Free State and SM West split last year's series, 1-1, but the
Vikings got the better of the Firebirds in the all-important
Sub-State round. Photo LJWorld.
Game of the Week
SM West (3-0) at Lawrence Free State (3-0) at Free State Athletic Stadium

If you're a fan of Sunflower League football you've had this game circled on your calendar since this past spring when the schedules were released . These two faced off twice in 2012 -- once in week two, where Free State won handily 28-14, and then again in the Sub-State round where SM West kind of surprised everyone winning by a margin of 48-21. The bad taste of the loss has spent the past 10 months seething in the collective psyches of the Free State players, coaches and fans. There's no doubt the Firebirds will come out more fired up than they've been all season, hoping to return the Sub-State favor to SM West, in front of the Free State home crowd.

For SM West this is what I would call a "gateway" game. Win, and they extend their winning streak to 15 games. They will also (likely) be favored in every remaining game on their regular season schedule, so a win would strongly increase their chances of going 9-0, which would ensure a top playoff seed in Kansas 6A East, and also guarantee another league championship. Lose and the winning streak is snapped -- the chance at back-to-back league titles potentially goes out the window, as do their chances at a top seed in the playoffs.

To say this game doesn't mean very much because it doesn't technically have playoff implications is hogwash. This type of matchup is what Sunflower League football is all about.

Leavenworth (1-2) at SM Northwest (0-3) at SM North District Stadium (Thursday game)

Leavenworth seems to have the league's wackiest schedule, but that's for another time and place. It looks like we'll have two pretty evenly matched teams squaring off in this one (which is not a shocker considering how close all of the game have been this year), and a win by either team wouldn't strike me as a surprise. Keep an eye on how SM Northwest's run defense does against Leavenworth's Jason Randall. He's the key in every Leavenworth game, and his rushing yardage total is an excellent gauge to measure if the Pioneers won, competed, lost or got blown out.

SM South (2-1) at Olathe South (2-1) at ODAC

This is just another excellent game in one of the most evenly matched weeks of Sunflower League football we've had in a long time. SM South has one of the league's best defenses (so far they rank first overall in total defense only giving up 140.3 yards per game) and they'll be going up against one of the league's better one-two offensive combos in Olathe South's Jake Seurer and Tom McCue. If SM South can win this game they'll be in very good position to break their streak of losing seasons and make the playoffs, as their schedule sets up very well going forward. For Olathe South, this is one of three remaining opportunities to really build some momentum as they enter what will be a very challenging district.

SM East (3-0) at Olathe North (2-1) at CBAC

This game for SM East is where the rubber hits the road. The Lancers have had about as exciting of a start to a season as I can remember from any team in a long time. Meanwhile, Olathe North has shown they're a very good unit with probably as much pure athleticism as any team they'll go up against. When you compare these two teams on paper it's extremely challenging to determine who has the upper hand. Olathe North is more athletic, but SM East's offense creates a ton of big plays. SM East has a tough defense that forces turnovers, but Olathe North has a much better offense than either of SM East's previous opponents. I guess we'll just have to find out on Friday.

Olathe East (1-2) at SM North (0-3) at SM North District Stadium

The schedule makers didn't do SM North any favors this fall, as they've already faced Free State and Olathe North, and they still have Olathe East this week as well as SM East, SM South and SM West remaining. For Olathe East this is an excellent opportunity for the team to get back in line after dropping two of their first three games in close fashion. The good news for the Hawks is they'll be favored to win in this game, and the three that follow, if not every game the rest of the regular season. So long as Olathe East takes care of business they're going to see their stock and confidence rising with each week.

Olathe Northwest (1-2) at Lawrence (0-3) at Lawrence High Stadium

This might be a contest of who forgot about last week the quickest. Both of these teams gave up leads against undefeated clubs in the last minutes of play and went on to lose. That kind of performance and outcome can either motivate a team, or completely demoralize them. I would like to think both these clubs will come out fighting as hard as they did last week. For Lawrence, the last time they began a season 0-3 was in 2009, when they finished the year 1-9. Obviously they're a much better team that than unit, but they've still yet to piece together four complete quarters of high-level play. Olathe Northwest had many positives to take away from their loss last week, but in the eyes of most around the Sunflower League they're still a team that can't win a big game. This game could be a turning point for either team.

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