|Lawrence's Dearion Cooper, right, attempted to
tackle Free State's Joel Spain on Friday night in
Lawrence. Free State won 31-12. Photo LJWorld.
**Kudos to Olathe East for bouncing back from the traumatizing week two series of events to collect a sound 14-6 victory against SM South. For the record, James McGinnis continues to show improvement, albeit slowly. He's now breathing on his own and showing some dexterity. The most recent update on McGinnis is available here.
**Nine of the league's 12 teams sit at 2-1 or 1-2. Don't be surprised if we see most of the league hover around that .500 mark all year.
**Does the Sunflower League have a legitimate Simone Award candidate through three weeks of play? Right now the answer is no. Venus Triplett is on pace to hit 2,000 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns -- if he plays 12 games -- but that's a big if. And even then, he would have to out-dual big name talents like Bishop Miege's Ryan Willis (827 yards passing, nine total touchdowns) and Lee Summit's Drew Lock (1,039 yards passing, 18 total touchdowns through four games).
**SM East is currently averaging 43 points per game. The record for the most points averaged during the regular season, since 2000, is held by Free State's 2006 unit (refer to next bullet point), which averaged 45.2 points per game.
**How much of a bummer is it that Olathe North and SM East don't meet at any point this regular season? This reminds me of 2006, when Free State and SM West were pretty clearly the league's two best teams, but avoided one another in the regular season. Things (from a general interest perspective) worked out well that year, as they both went 11-0 before meeting in Sub-State. There hadn't been a matchup of undefeated teams in the Sub-State round before then -- at least on record -- and there hasn't been one since.
**Let me take a moment to point out the ridiculousness that is Olathe North's Chaz Burgess. I've been watching the Sunflower League for years and I can't recall a less assuming player who seems to be able to step up in every occasion, regardless of the circumstances. In 2013 he tied for the league lead in interceptions with five. His fifth pick of that season was on a Joe Dineen pass, in the endzone, effectively thwarting a Free State Sectional victory and also punching Olathe North's ticket to Sub-State. Last week he stepped in at quarterback (for the first time in his career) against Free State and merely orchestrated a second half comeback, completing six of his eight passes for 121 yards and a touchdown, in addition to rushing for 24 yards. Burgess' quarterback rating of 117 is second only to SM East's Gunnar Englund (127). On Friday he twice intercepted Olathe South's Jake Seurer on second half drives into Olathe North territory. The interceptions were probably the two most critical plays in the Eagles' second half shutout of the Falcons, which forced overtime and an eventual victory for Olathe North.
**SM North's 36-6 loss this Friday was the program's 22nd loss in a row, which broke the modern era Sunflower League record for consecutive losses, set at 21 by Leavenworth from 2008 to 2010. I mention this simply for the purposes of noting the historical relevance. I won't mention the Indians' losing streak again until they end it (hopefully and probably in October).
Olathe North: Well folks, they did it again. For the third week in a row the Eagles were tied or trailing in the fourth quarter, only to score on their final possession and claim a victory. This time around that final score came in double overtime, but the point's the same -- Olathe North has found a way to win three close games against tough competition. This might not be the 2004 or 2009 Eagles, but the group seems to find a way to win regardless of the circumstances.
Olathe Northwest: The Raven faithful should be proud of where the program stands through three weeks of play. We all kind of cringed when they dropped a home-opener to a 4A opponent by two points, but that 4A opponent (Hays) is now 3-0 and has slugged 5A opponents the past two weeks. And since the loss, Olathe Northwest has been steady, controlled, and 2-0. The Ravens will be attempting to claim their first ever victory against Olathe South this week.
Kick and punt coverage: Through three weeks of play we are yet to see a kick or punt return for a touchdown. This is odd, especially considering it's early in the season and the league's special teams often lag behind in the early weeks (see extra points below). Nevertheless, it's a trend to keep an eye on as the season goes along. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I would be willing to bet special teams touchdowns result in wins more often than not.
Leavenworth: The Pioneers have kept their last two games close, but lack of offensive punch has produced Ls in back-to-back weeks. While they have the advantage of not facing the Sunflower League come district play, their district might actually be more competitive (the three other teams are a combined 4-5) than anticipated early on. Whether or not Leavenworth puts together anything to write home about in their next three league games remains to be seen.
Lawrence: There's no way around it -- Lawrence has not played anywhere close to the level of a legitimate playoff contender. And it's not as if the Chesty Lions lack talent. They probably have the best running back combo in the league in JD Woods and Trey Moore (the two have combined for 505 yards and six touchdowns) and outstanding offensive and defensive lines. Their schedule offers chances for improvement the next few weeks and they had better grasp the opportunity.
Extra Points: In a season where we have pretty solid experience and talent returning at the kicker position, the league has been awful on extra points. The data I have reports the league's kickers are a combined 60-for-78 on PATs (which at 77% basically means we've been getting a missed extra point once every four touchdowns). I don't think games are necessarily won by converting PATs -- with the exception of situations like the Olathe North/Olathe South contes -- but I'm a firm believer games are commonly LOST when teams miss early PATs and have to play catch-up.
Week Four Power Rankings
1. SM East (3-0): The Lancers have steamrolled their first three opponents, and there's nothing to suggest they'll be slowing down any time soon. SM East's remaining foes have a combined record of 4-14, and the one thing about the Lancers is they rarely, if ever, play down to their competition.
2. Olathe North (3-0): Olathe North really showed their talent level in week three, beating one of the league's most on-fire teams, Olathe South, despite a performance that appeared fairly lackluster. We will see if the Eagles can pick things up a bit as their next three opponents are a combined 2-7.
3. Olathe South (2-1): The Falcons suffered a week three loss, but they have many positives going. Their offense is one of the league's best, and the defense is great at forcing turnovers. But you worry about what would happen to the team should Collin Fisher go down with a more serious injury.
4. Lawrence Free State (2-1): The Firebirds won for the eighth time in the last nine matchups against their rival Lawrence on Friday. While Free State is yet to really come across as one of the league's dominant teams, they are still very young, and they might have as high a ceiling as any team.
5. Olathe East (2-1): After the emotional roller coaster the Hawks had to go through following James McGinnis' injury, their 14-6 victory over SM South was really a gutty showing. Olathe East's schedule continues to cool off in the next few weeks before they face Olathe North in week seven.
6. Olathe Northwest (2-1): The Ravens are ranked among the top half of the Power Rankings for the first time since 2011, and with good reason. Looking at their remaining schedule, Olathe Northwest should be able to notch at a minimum two more victories, if not more depending on improvement.
7. Lawrence (1-2): I think it's safe to say I expected more from the Chesty Lions in 2014. There's still a long ways to go, but thus far they've been outscored 42-80, and have shown little to make anyone believe they're a playoff contender. They'll need to grow up in a hurry before a tough district.
8. SM South (1-2): Two weeks ago I said the Raiders should be happy if they could go 1-2 against their tumultuous three-game stretch of SM East, Olathe East and Olathe North, in that order. They still have a shot, but it will be tough. For what it's worth, they did defeat Olathe North, 10-7, last year.
9. SM West (1-2): Despite their youth, the Vikings do have plenty of speed at the skill positions, and they used them well in a 36-6 rout of SM North this past Friday. Going forward, the more they can get the ball to those speedy playmakers in open field the better they will compete in every game.
10. Leavenworth (1-2): District play can't get here soon enough for the Pioneers. Nobody is envious of their upcoming three games, which are scheduled against Free State, Olathe North and SM East. The good news is Leavenworth's defense has been steady and could keep them in any game.
11. SM Northwest (1-2): If SM Northwest plays to their strengths I think it's totally conceivable they could finish the next six games at 3-3. But that will require a healthy Duron Lowe (which we really haven't seen this fall) and some incredible luck which is even more of a wildcard.
12. SM North (0-3): I don't think anybody's expecting SM North to win a game before district play. However, considering Wyandotte and Harmon are a combined 0-6 (the two teams not named SM East in their district), the Indians have as good of a chance as anybody at making the playoffs this fall.