Monday, August 29, 2016

Sunflower League Previews: Week 1

Lawrence vs SM Northwest @ Lawrence (Lawrence leads the series 19-14)

Entering 2016, the Chesty Lions and Cougars are both looking to turn some corners. This series has not been easy for either program in their last eight meetings with both teams going on four-game winning streaks since 2007. While former Cougars Coach Aaron Barnett was 4-0 against Dirk Wedd in his six year tenure, both Lin Hibbs and Bo Black have struggled on the scoreboard since the 2012 season.

The Chesty Lions are looking to return to the playoffs and make it even deeper in to the bracket, while the Cougars are working to build on a 1-8 2015 season that showed a couple sparks under second year Head Coach Bo Black.

Over the summer, the 7v7 play was the focus  of the Cougars in their drive to get better after last season's play. Dirk Wedd and his Chesty Lions, are wanting to replicate last year's regular season success and return to the 6A State Title game for the first time since 1995,  the last year the Chesty Lions represented the Sunflower League before giving way to a new dynasty built by the Olathe North Eagles only a year later.

SM West vs Free State @ Free State (Series tied 10-10)

These two programs are no strangers to each other, either in the 6A playoffs or regular season games.

The Vikings are looking to make history this season under Tim Callaghan who only needs three more wins to reach #100 all-time and to be the fourth Head Coach in SMSD #512 history to do so. Taking on a traditionally strong Firebirds team led by Bob Lisher is no easy task in week-1 but a great challenge to take on.

With the season ahead, losses to graduation and the impacts transfers at both schools could quickly determine how well these teams can play. The Vikings lost RB Nigel Houston who is now at SM East, while the Firebirds landed QB Dallas Crittenden from Topeka Hayden.

Although the season is young, look for both programs to make a significant rise to the top of league standings. While the schedule is heavily unbalanced, we will be fortunate in one way or another to see the Firebirds take care of business on the west side of the 6A bracket come playoff time.

Since 2010, the series is even at 3-3.

Olathe North vs Wichita Heights @ Wichita Heights (Series tied 1-1)

Six years ago, revenge was captured by the Wichita Heights Falcons winning the State Title defeating the Olathe North Eagles in a great rematch of Football powers of the West vs East.

The State Finals of 2009 and 2010 are the only time these two have faced each other and the Falcons will have a good head to head meeting with a strong Eagles team who earned a respectable 10-2 record and a third consecutive Sub-State berth in the playoffs. That Falcons team had its own success as well, earning a 7-4 record along with a spot in the Sectionals round of the 5A playoffs where they bowed out to eventual 5A State Runner-Up Bishop Carroll.

Both teams will be replacing key players after huge graduation numbers, but getting to see how each team can reload their rosters will be one of the more interesting story lines this season.

Olathe Northwest vs Goddard @ Goddard (First meeting, second in 2017)

Similar to Olathe East, the Ravens find themselves also making a long week-1 road trip as they did in 2015.

This destination is Goddard, KS, home of the Lions, led by Scott Vang, who is entering his fifth season. During this tenure, the Lions have a record of 15-24 in 39 GP, with three first round exits in the 5A playoffs since the 2012 season.

Goddard has never faced a Sunflower League opponent in its history until this season.

Look for Chip Sherman's Ravens to build on their first three years with the aerial attack offense that can drive an opposing defense crazy if not fit to handle that pressure. The team may be a shining ray of hope for the O-Town in a year with the usual front runners standing on shaking ground.

Olathe East vs Hutchinson @ Hutchinson (Hutch leads series 1-0)

For the first time since 2005, the Hawks and SaltHawks will reunite in a match made in heaven. In their last meeting, the Hawks found themselves the salty ones after losing to Hutchinson 24-7 in the 6A State Final.

The SaltHawks led by Ryan Cornelson (13-9 at Hutchinson) are coming off a 6-4 season and first round playoff loss to the Junction City Blue Jays 56-21 defeat.

Years of bland, tasteless meals and two major coaching changes later, the Hawks are led by second year Coach Jesse Owen. A year ago the Hawks made a trip to Garden City, falling 28-14. For a second year in a row, the team will travel again, but the trip might  find itself a little more appetizing if only for their opponent.Who knows, perhaps a visit to Hutch will rub some of that delicious history and we'll  see a new and improved Olathe East team with a brand new look. (Doubt it.)

Olathe South vs SM East @ SM North (OS leads series 16-2 - Sunflower meetings only)

32 games ago, the Falcons and Lancers last met during the 2011 playoffs. Now four seasons later with two Coaching changes since these two will meet again. The Falcons defeated the Lancers 55-42 in a huge playoff game at SMNDS.

Craig Lewis of the Falcons is coming over from Staley High School where he was an Assistant Coach under Coaching legend Fred Bouchard the last six seasons. Coach Lewis plans to bring a new offense and punch to the struggling Falcons who finished 1-8 in 2015. This years Falcons will have their work cut out for them as they face a loaded SM East Football Lancers coming off a 9-2 season and a tough loss to the Olathe North Eagles in week-11.

The Lancers lost SR's Wyatt Edmisten, Rider Terry, and multiple others who all contributed to the Lancers 6A State Title run in 2014 and a 22-2 record in the last two seasons. Look for SM East to continue to make noise in the Sunflower. It is no secret any more in Prairie Village or the rest of the league that yes, Lancer Nation is thriving on the gridiron and will for seasons to come. One key number this season digging deeper in to the schedule is that Dustin Delaney's Lancers are 16-1 vs all current opponents since 2013.

SM North vs SM South @ SM South (SM South leads the series 24-23-1)

The Indians and Raiders start the season with a great intra-district match up.

Ben Bartlett's Indians are looking to get off to a fast start in hopes of improving from their 3-7 2015 season. Last season's game at Larry Taylor Field saw the Raiders and first year head coach Brett Oberzan struggle, losing 22-8 to start the season. Both programs took similar paths with very rough stretches and losing streaks taking the wind out of their sails.

For the Raiders who have been struggling against their own District opponents, winning three straight against the Indians since the 2012 season has been a bright spot with minimal improvement on the field. This season however, could be a turning point for both programs as they are looking to move upward in the Sunflower standings.

Leavenworth vs Lansing @ Lansing (Series tied 1-1)

Familiar coaching foes and former Olathe Head Coaches John McCall (North) and Mark Littrell (South) once again renew a rivalry, only now in Leavenworth County, and they meet for the third time since the 2014 season. These two are no strangers to great football programs and bring a wealth of experience to allow both programs to rise even higher in the seasons to come.

During the 2015 season, the Lions came away with a dominating home win to close out their old school building in week-8 48-19. While the Pioneers struggled to a 2-8 record.

Both teams are looking to get off to a fast start and make some noise early in their respective leagues. Lansing has its work cut out for them with Kaw Valley foes Piper and Basehor-Linwood in the meat of their schedule, while the Pioneers find themselves meeting a strong SM West in week-2, and a very favorable schedule ahead of them with five of their next seven opponents who all had losing records in 2015.

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