Friday, November 28, 2014

6A State Title Preview: Hutchinson vs. SM East

Emporia State's Welch Stadium is the site of Saturday's
6A state title tilt. 
Hutchinson (8-4)
vs. SM East (12-0)
Where: Welch Stadium, Emporia State University
When: 1:00 p.m., Saturday
Radio: 1510 AM
TV: None (810 WHB will have online stream)
Topeka CJ spread: SM East -12

Hutchinson

**The Salthawks are the first team to enter the 6A state title game with four or more losses since Wichita Heights in 2009. Hutchinson is hoping for fair better than the Falcons, who lost to Olathe North 37-3 that year.

**Hutchinson running back Blaik Middleton is averaging 218 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns per game.

**Since 2003, Hutchinson has gone 39-3 in the postseason, winning seven state titles.

SM East

**The Lancers' 567 points scored are the most ever by a Sunflower League team during one season, and there's still a game left to go.

**SM East is seeking their first state football title in school history. Last year they fell just short, losing 28-21 to Derby in the 6A state title game.

**SM East has gone a combined 30-5 over the last three seasons, and this fall they became the first program in the Sunflower League since Olathe North in 2010 to win 10 or more games in back-to-back seasons.

Three things to watch

1.) Can SM East slow Blaik Middleton? 

When a guy has been averaging over 200 rushing yards per game for the duration of the season, it's safe to say he's going to have success against whoever he faces. SM East did a solid job limiting Olathe North's Venus Triplett, one of the better backs in the league, last week, but it's going to take a much better performance to slow Middleton. And here's the truth -- Middleton is going to get some big plays here and there. It's inevitable with a running back of his ability. The question is, how well can SM East limit those big plays, and how will they respond if and when Middleton makes a big play(s)? At the end of the day, this game will be won or lost based on how well Middleton is able to perform.

2.) Can Hutchinson limit SM East in the first half?

For the fist time all season last week, SM East didn't steamroll their opponent in the first half. And the result was a game that went down to the wire. The Lancers put together a nice opening touchdown drive, and came close to jumping ahead 14-0, but the Olathe North defense locked things down and kept the game close. It will be essential that Hutchinson doesn't allow the Lancers to get out to a big first half lead. If SM East is up more than two touchdowns at halftime, they will be able to drain the clock and control the tempo in the second half, as they've done for the better part of every game this season.

3.) Who will make the big play when it counts?

The past three 6A state title games have been decided by a touchdown less, and each of those games came down to big second half touchdowns which swung the tide in favor of the winning team. For SM East, the Lancers have had 365 days to think about  their loss to to Derby last year, when the Panthers put together a late drive and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:21 remaining in the game. If this game stays close (and with both teams favoring the run it always could) it's going to come down to one or two really big plays late.

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