|Olathe North's Venus Triplett.
Photo KC Star.
Blue Valley Northwest (7-2)
Last Meeting: N/A
Topeka CJ Spread: Olathe North -3
The Eagles' roster is loaded with athleticism, speed, and youth, all of which is most appropriately epitomized by junior tailback Venus Triplett who's rushed for 1,237 yards and 20 touchdowns this fall. Junior quarterback Cole Murphy has also played very well having passed for 1,098 yards and rushed for 658, accumulating 17 touchdowns in the process. Defensively, Olathe North comes at you from all angles. Four of their defenders -- Jadon McGaha, Jesse Kendricks, Marcel Spears and Jimmie Swain -- rank in the top 10 in the league in tackles, and they've also forced 20 turnovers as a unit. Swain is soft verbal commit to TCU, while junior defensive tackle Josh Moore holds offers from KU, TCU and Texas Tech. Sophomore defensive back Isaiah Simmons (whose brother Victor plays at KU) has also come on strong this year, and he adds just another dimension to an incredible secondary.
Blue Valley Northwest
The Huskies of BV Northwest are an extremely balanced team that benefited from playing many juniors and sophomores in key roles last fall. They're led by quarterback Jacob Rominger, who's thrown for 1,324 yards and notched 14 passing touchdowns to only two interceptions. At 6-4, and 200 pounds, he's been clocked at 4.5 in the forty and he can be a nightmare for opposing defenses, although he does most of his damage with his arm. BV Northwest distributes their carries, but their top rusher is Alexander Miles who's rushed for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns on 162 carries. Defensively, the Huskies are balanced as well, with seven players who've record 40 or more tackles.
What to Expect
Through nine weeks of play BV Northwest ranked among the middle of the EKL in run defense, and if they don't step it up this week their season will be over by the time Triplett gets his 15th carry. The Huskies had no problem handling SM South and Olathe East, but Olathe North is a different type of animal with the athleticism they boast. The best shot BV Northwest has at taking this game is if they can play relatively mistake-free football and execute on special teams. They're more experienced than the Eagles, and their numbers suggest they are comfortable with the conservative game calling it takes to win many of these types of games. Regardless of who comes out with the victory, it looks like a pretty compelling matchup on paper.
Olathe East (6-3) at Gardner-Edgerton (8-1)
Where: Gardner-Edgerton High School
Last Meeting: N/A
Topeka CJ Spread: Gardner-Edgerton -13
The Hawks are the type of team that lulls you to sleep, then wham!, they hit you with a big play to put you on your back. We saw that multiple times last Friday against SM South where Jalen Branson and Jordan Brown were able to notch long touchdown runs when the defense expected it least. They're going to need as much production from those two as possible this week (the two have combined for 1,408 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns) in addition to another solid performance from quarterback Connor Leach, and an improved effort against the run from their defensive unit.
The Trailblazers are led by arguably the Kansas City Metro's best player in running back Traevohn Wrench. His name is well-known among EKL and Sunflower League opponents alike, and for the season he's already gained 1,951 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns on just 233 carries. But you can't forget about the game manager at quarterback, Jared Hobby, who's passed for 1,588 yards and 17 touchdowns himself. The Trailblazers are extremely effective when they can set up the play action pass after a few successful Wrench runs, and that's typically when Hobby does his damage through the air. Defensively Gardner-Edgerton is solid, but certainly not a juggernaut, allowing 325 yards per game.
What to Expect
Olathe East's defensive performance against SM South's rushing attack last week left quite a bit to be desired. Granted, the Hawks might not have been showing as much in the hopes of disguising some of their defensive works for the playoffs, but they'll need a better effort Friday. Twice in the past three games Wrench has scored six rushing touchdowns, and on both occasions he got off to a hot start and couldn't be slowed. If Olathe East wants to keep this game close they must slow him early in the game. The Hawks have a good enough secondary to match anything Gardner-Edgerton throws at them, so really this game will be won or lost on Wrench's performance.
|Free State's Keith Loneker against SM Northwest earlier
in the season. Photo LJWorld.
Free State (8-1)
Where: Free State Athletic Stadium
Last meeting: Free State beat SM Northwest 20-3 in week three.
Topeka CJ Spread:
Free State -18
SM Northwest has typically played to the level of their competition. They have virtually no passing game, so their offensive success is predicated on how well they run the football. In theory, this seems easy to prepare for, but it was enough to get into the playoffs, and enough to play most of their regular season games close. The Cougars biggest threat is quarterback Jake Horner, although he's probably a better return man (he's taken two kicks and a punt to the house) than he is a signal caller. Laphonso McKinnis, Duron Lowe and Justin Moody give the Cougars other solid options to carry the football. Defensively the Cougars are led by Devin Shockley, a linebacker who runs the field as well as anybody in the league. His 109 tackles, 5.5 sacks and five forced fumbles speaks for themselves. Meanwhile, safety Jake Hoskins has quietly been one of the league's best defensive backs all year, and his efforts will be vital to slowing Free State's big play potential.
The name everyone knows is quarterback/safety extraordinaire Joe Dineen, who basically does everything for the Firebirds. He's thrown for 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions, in addition to adding six rushing touchdowns. And keep an eye on his defensive work. He makes more tackles near the line of scrimmage than just about any Sunflower League safety I've ever witnessed. Linebackers Keith Loneker, Blake Winslow and Zach Bickling seem to have uncanny abilities to seek out the football, and they combine with Dineen to lead a ferocious defense that's created 28 turnovers, which is the most of any team in the league. The Firebirds also have bookend corners in Joel Spain and Camren Torneden, go-to receiving threats on offense, and an ability to go out and take a game as well as any team in the league.
What to Expect
Obviously Free State is the heavy favorite in this game, considering their record, their playoff history, the fact they're playing at home, and how they're facing a SM Northwest team that hasn't exactly steamrolled anyone this year. That being said, we can't overlook how the Cougars played Free State very tough (for a half anyways) back in September. How did they do it? They played ball control and took advantage of three first half Free State fumbles. It's going to take more than a few fumbles and ball control for SM Northwest to pull an upset in this one, but playoff football has had it's crazy games throughout the years and you never know what could go down.
Leavenworth (3-6) at SM East (8-1)
Where: SM North District Stadium
Last meeting: SM East beat Leavenworth 34-0 in week one.
Topeka CJ Spread: SM East -21
This could be the final game of Jason Randall's illustrious career at Leavenworth -- I would argue Randall has been the program's most important player, ever -- and the Pioneers will ensure if it is, it won't be because he has a lack of touches. Randall led the league in rushing yards through the regular season with 1,285, including 13 touchdowns, and he's also been vital returning kicks. The Donnelson Twins, Jarred and Jordan lead the team on defense while also doubling as offensive guards. The wildcard for Leavenworth is and always has been Isaiah Ross, one of the league's most dangerous threats to score in open field.
While the Lancers don't have one particular player who's absolutely off the charts, they're solid at every single position group, and this is part of why they've been so successful this fall. Defensive lineman Dominique Atkinson and Kyle Ball are tenacious up front, and perhaps as good as any two front line defensive players the league has. They control the tempo of the Lancer defense. Offensively, good luck pinpointing who to focus on, where six players have rushed for over 200 yards. Quarterback Christian Blessen, who's included in that group, has also been tremendous in the passing game, averaging 17 yards per completion.
What to Expect
SM East has been a case study for what a team "playing greater than the sum of its parts" looks like. And it's that type of mentality that could carry the Lancers a long ways in the playoffs. They'll obviously be favored in this game, but don't be shocked if Leavenworth keeps things competitive. Randall is load for any team, and the way these two clubs run the ball it's hard to imagine a ton of scoring, given the way the clock will be whittled down. In week one this game was totally one-sided in the Lancers favor. It's been nine long weeks since then, and this will be a good showing of how far each team has come.