Thursday, November 15, 2018

Sub-State Overview: St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Olathe West

Image result for saint thomas aquinas logoImage result for olathe west high school logo

- St. Thomas Aquinas (10-0) vs Olathe West (5-6) -

Friday, November 16th @ Aquinas

While not supporting the exact same level of  stars as the previous SFL match-up, outside viewers would be remiss to ignore the potential this game has to surprise everyone. Olathe West has shown as much guts as any team in the state and has proven to be the Sunflower League's best 5A representative in a very long time. Their efforts so far have led them to their shortest road trip of the post-season as they travel across town to St. Thomas Aquinas, who will be covered first.

The Saints run the good old-fashioned flexbone as their primary package and thus, do a very good job of spreading touches out among a good number of players. For reference, a whopping 13 different players have scored a rushing touchdown for Aquinas this year. The Owls have had five players score on the ground. 

St. Thomas Aquinas has no lack of talent on either side of the ball.
Photo from St. Thomas.

While St. Thomas uses a lot of players in its schemes, it's no secret who is their go-to runner. With around 1,800 yards, 22TD's and 9.7 yards per carry, #28 Tyron "Tank" Young has lit up the EKL all year as a sophomore. In a more traditional system, who know's what such talent would be capable of. Regardless, Aquinas does a good job to not neglect the rest of its play-makers; leading the remaining seven rushers with 100+ yards are SR Cameron Jackson and JR Charlie McCormick filling in as the main complimentary pieces alongside Young in the backfield.

Don't let the powerful running game lead you to believe that passing isn't an option for this team. SR QB Raboin Tate hasn't eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in yards, but a 12-1 TD:INT ratio shows how efficient he is when called upon. A QBR of 236.1 doesn't hurt matters either and his ability to spread out touches has led to seven different players getting scores through the air. 

To give the defense some credit this time around, the Saints have proven perfectly adept at keeping scores to a minimum. Through 10 games so far, only an extra talented Bishop-Miege (9-2) team has managed to score more than 14 points against this front. Things have gone so poorly for opposing teams that they average under half as many yards overall than the private Catholic school. 

Now, on to the underdogs, The "Comeback Kids", the Olathe West Owls. Few schools can claim to have much success starting out. The Owls were not that much different when it came to regular season play against league opponents, going 2-6 over all with a 1-6 record against SFL opponents.  Despite keeping most of their losses within a couple score, questions abound on how the team would handle the 5A playoffs. 

This writer originally predicted the Owls to reach this point, but in reality, a single win against KC Washington (4-5) was considered a high goal. After accomplishing that, a metaphorical spark seemed to ignite the fire within Olathe West as they proceeded to dismantle not just KC Schlagle (6-4) in a blowout, but also keep De Soto (8-3) to a single score. 

While not sporting the same crazy statistics as any other teams covered this week, a handful  of players have established themselves as leaders of the offense. With a more balanced approach compared to typical Kansas teams, the Owls a near even amount of yards through the air and on the ground. SR QB Zac Krause has proven effective with just under 2000 yards passing with 17 TD's to go against 10 INT's on the season. It remains to be seen how much the winter cold will effect his ability to influence the game as usual. 

On the ground, JR RB Gavin McDaniel has been the primary back, eclipsing 1,000 yards with 10 TD runs to his name. Overall, it's tough to judge what this team will be able to do against another team they aren't expected to compete with. It's hard to say what has even caused this run aside from Olathe West's regular season pitting them against almost exclusively 6A competition, something none of its previous opponents can lay claim to. That isn't the case this time around with the team's first EKL opponent.

What Will Happen:

Frankly, this is likely where the ride ends for the Owls. Determination and heart took them far but nothing has so much as slowed this Aquinas team all year and they could be argued as the best team in the state right now. I'm not a pro bookie or anything but I feel to put the Saints as anything less than 14-point favorites would be product of a fantasy. If Olathe West does manage a miracle, expect an endless stream of memes and jokes about it.

Final Comment: To think that in the last two years, we've seen an 9-4 state champion and a 5-6 team playing for a championship spot. I will be praying for both Olathe schools to win just so we can all stare in awe at how we reached a point where two Olathe schools could make the state championsip in the same year.

Monday, November 12, 2018

State Semi Finals-W-12 Sunflower

5 BVN (8-3) vs. 3 ONE (9-2) @ ODAC - Series tied 4-0
* True North. If you are a Veteran, you may know that term quite well. True North. That term will determine Friday night's victor.

Friday night can determine which North will come out on top to represent the 6A East.

While the Mustangs and Eagles have proven to be in the top of their respective leagues outright, it will come down to ball control, clock management of two very good Football minds (Andy Sims of BV North) and Chris McCartney (Olathe North) to find the end zone and force turnovers.

These two may hail from the likes of Johnson County, but in all previous meetings met in (1987-88 week-4) and 2003 (week-12) - the last time the two met in the 6A Semi-Final of which the Eagles won 13-6 which feels like ages ago, and most recently in 2015 with the season on the line the Eagles again defeating the Mustangs in week-10.

Both Head Coaches began their tenures in that season, and both with quite success in the seasons that have followed. As this decade of Football comes closer to an end, the Eagles will look to find themselves back in the State Final since the 2009 season while the Mustangs are reigning 6A State Champions having won their only Football title in school history last year.

For the Mustangs to pull of a win at ODAC will not be easy, but it can be done. Since 1980, most any, and all road teams find themselves coming away with a rare win in that stadium.

Week-13 will meet the winner of Derby Panthers (11-0) and Manhattan Indians (10-1).

1 STA (10-0) vs. 11 OWO (5-6) @ STA - Series tied 0-0
* The 5A-East has adjusted slightly since it's last version during the 2017 season.

Not many folks who follow the High School Football scene in Johnson County would have expected to see the young Owls of Olathe West in the Sub-State Final. Let alone, the ST Aquinas Saints, who in their time just south of College Boulevard in the 88-89 school year will see their first ever taste of Sunflower League Football.

While the Saints, are no strangers to post-season success, and have the resume to back that up, the Owls, out of nowhere are finding themselves in uncharted waters, yet attainable should they be able to make history in the 5A East bracket.

For those Owls keeping tabs on these 11 games, those 11 total games under their belts are the total number of times that Saints leader Randy Dreiling has made it to the Sub-State Final in an illustrious coaching career spanning 22 Varsity seasons with the Hutch SaltHawks, and ST Aquinas Saints.

Whoever wins out, could meet the hot Wichita Northwest Grizzlies, who are 11-0, who knocked off reigning 5A State Champions the Bishop Carroll Eagles in a barnburner 84-67. The Maize Eagles, themselves have a big task ahead of them in hopes of defeating the Grizzlies.

DYK? Mr. Novacek was a Saint Football student-athlete?

5 BMS (9-2) vs. 2 BLB (10-1) @ Basehor - Stags lead series 3-0
* Can it be done? Is this the year? "Upset"

All of those questions will be answered after the final whistle, as Stags Coach Jon Holmes takes his men on the road to Basehor-Linwood.

In three prior meetings, the Stags have came away with a win, and all at home in 14-16-17 vs. Rod Stallbaumers Bobcats. With a couple hiccups, the Stags lost earlier in the year to the Saints, and also to the Rockhurst Hawklets ending their chances of another undefeated season. 2018, however, has taken some work to dig out of tough spots, and find adversity to keep moving to the next round of play.

Is it possible the Bobcats can come away with a win? Yes it is. Both teams are not lacking playoff experience, as the two are well Coached, and talented on both sides of the ball.

The winner of this game will meet the winner of McPherson Bullpups (11-0) vs. Goddard Lions (9-2).

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Sub-State Overview: Olathe North vs Blue Valley North

Image result for olathe north high school mascotImage result for blue valley north mustangs

- Olathe North (9-2) vs Blue Valley North (8-3) -
Friday, November 16th @ ODAC

Let's get the disappointing part out of the way. BV North showed once again how unbelievable it is that this team started the season 1-3. Despite Edgerton's 10-0 record, the Trailblazers were honestly the underdogs as hosts. For those who don't follow non-SFL schools, you will be in for an absolute treat next Friday.
Image result for Graham Mertz
SR QB Graham Mertz
Photo from Hudl

To put things simply, there haven't been many QB-WR duos like the one Seniors QB Graham Mertz and WR Cameron Burt have created over the last couple years. While Burt was more of a role player in 2017 and fully grew into his role as a star pass-catcher; Mertz is having a slightly less productive year, only throwing for 2850 yards and 38 touchdowns so far in 2018 compared to his monstrous 3684 yard, 45 Touchdowns. Excuse me while I take a minute to hyper-ventilate at the thought of such numbers at the high school level. If you need further proof that Mertz is for real, an official commitment to Wisconsin, roughly 18 scholarship offers from FBS schools ranging from Kansas (HA, of course you had a chance Jayhawks) all the way up to even Alabama. Being ranked the #2 Pro-Style QB in the country by doesn't hurt either. 

Despite all the attention I just gave Mertz, his top receiver for 2018 should never be overlooked on any given play. With a whopping 1400+ receiving yard total to go along with 17 TD catches. Burt is close to having one of the most historic seasons for a wide receiver in Kansas football. While not receiving nearly the same attention as his teammate, several FCS have reportedly sent offers with the likes of Drake University and Stetson standing out. 

Image result for Daymonn Sanchez
SR RB Daymonn Sanchez`
Photo from Hudl
Now, with the two superstar Mustangs covered, let's cover some things that will help Olathe North as they strive to find a way to effectively limit such a high-powered offense. While we've been pumping up the BV North passing game, their Olathe counter-parts are nowhere near outclassed in terms of offensive production. The Eagles will bring their own offensive stars to the field with both SR RB Daymonn Sanchez and SO QB Arland Bruce IV being expected to step up once again for the Eagles.

In contrast with the Mustangs' hail of touchdown passes, Olathe North has never resembled its old state-champion teams more than now. With a team rushing total nearing a whopping 4000 yards and around 53 touchdown runs, the Eagles are an offensive powerhouse all their own. Sanchez has proven to be an incredible gem, not so much building off an impressive JR season, but rather exploding for over 2,000 yards in just 10 games of action. 32 Touchdowns (27 Rushing, 3 Receiving, 2 Kick Return) isn't too bad either. 

Not to be left out, Arland Bruce IV has become a proven leader in his first year as the starter. With over 1000 yards in both rushing and passing, Bruce has been a perfect compliment to ONHS's run-heavy attack. The sophomore has been proficient in scoring in his own right as well, notching 28 total TD's (17 Rushing, 11 Passing)  before their Week 11 match-up.

What Will Happen:

I could go on about both teams. Hell, I didn't even manage to cover their actual defenses because of their star power on the attacking side. If I'm being honest, their past performances in that regard probably won't matter anyways. Both sides are just too dominant and can score from anywhere on the field. 

Image result for Arland Bruce IV Olathe North
SO QB Arland Bruce IV
Photo from Hudl
With that said, it would be poor form to ignore a rather large flaw that the Eagles will need to shore up if they want to avoid giving up 80+ in a very Bishop-Carroll style. That flaw is unfortunately, the secondary and their passing defense as a whole. There's no getting around it. SM East seemed to figure it out in their first meeting of the year and Olathe South looked to be on the same wavelength. If you pass the ball on this defense, you will find a shocking amount of success; assuming your players actually catch the open passes. 

Considering the players we've covered before, you could fix the coverage problems and it might not even matter in the end. I neglected to mention that Burt is 6'4", 230 lbs. and runs a roughly 4.6 40. The tallest starting member of their secondary is roughly 6'2" in a best case scenario. I could be overestimating the value of physical attributes, but the statistics show that this young man is putting everything available to him to good use.

If by some miracle the Mustangs are at least slowed down or kept off the field, ONHS should be able to just ride the Bruce-Sanchez combo throughout the game, eating up clock and hopeful adding as many points as possible. This match-up is too crazy to choose a definitive winner, but if I had to set a spread, I'd put BV North as a 10-point favorite. I would also be shocked if this game doesn't hit the 50-point total when it is all said and done.

Final Comment: You are kidding yourself if you don't think this is the best Sub-State game this side of Kansas. If you want to take the kids to a game or don't have anything to do next Friday; drive out to ODAC and bear witness to these two teams. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Quick Hits - Sectional Round Thoughts

Yes, pretty much half of the remaining Sunflower League teams will be staying home next week after after a couple incredibly disappointing losses. As for the survivors and fans of high school football in general, things are still as crazy as ever for the two SFL teams left in the running. Here's a few thoughts on what happened and what is to come!

"Playoff Master" Prediction Statuses:

SME-ON Rematch: Check
SMS "Surprise" Run: Scratch X

Free State Will Stumble: Sad Check - To be honest, I still expected to see the Firebirds move on to the Sub-State/Semi-Finals round before losing to Derby yet again. That was not meant to be after Free State bowed out of the playoffs with a 19-41 loss at home to Manhattan (10-1). With the loss, reports have shown that long-time HC Bob Lisher will be retiring from coaching. Fans will have to wait till next year to see the aftermath of Lisher's incredible coaching career. 
Talk about a Cinderella Story
am I right?! I'm sorry.

Olathe West will win the 5A East: Wow - Just... Wow. What else can I say about this run the Owls have had in the playoffs? This team has managed to not only win their games, but absolutely dominate both KC Schlagle (6-4) and now De Soto (8-3).  Will they keep the momentum going and leave Aquinas winners against both the #1 and #2 seeds in the 5A East? Probablyyyy not. That said, they've already come this far and we've seen last year that a poor regular season doesn't mean as much as it used to once playoff time comes around.

I was originally going to post some thoughts on next week's SFL games but if you know anything about Blue Valley North and St. Thomas Aquinas, you should know why I'd have too much to shove into this article! Stay Tuned!

Bob Lisher - Free State - Retirement

A Storied Coaching career of a Lawrence Football Teacher 

Per Adam Sullivan (broke per Twitter @Sully20201) the only Head Coach in Firebirds of Free State High School history Bob Lisher has retired as Head Coach. 

From Free State's inception, a seemingly quick internship leading the Blue Valley North Mustangs during the 1995 to 1996 seasons led to the foundation and return of Coach Lisher to the Lawrence area.  

Prior to his time with the Mustangs, Lisher was an Assistant Coach under another Lawrence/SM West/Lee's Summit Coaching legend, Dick Purdy, who completed a string of 6A State Titles before retiring from education-coaching. 

From the time the doors opened at Free State in 1997-1998, Lisher has been their from the beginning. His mastermind has led the school to a 148-85 all-time record and a playoff record of 20-18. 

DYK: Locally, he is the only Firebird until the 2019 season to face the Chesty Lions: Dick Purdy (0-2), @ Dirk Wedd (13-6), and Steve Rampy (1-0) when the City Rivalry began in that 1997 Varsity season. For the record, the Firebirds lead the series all-time 14-8 in 22 games. 

Bob Lisher ranks fourth all-time in Sunflower League Football history behind: 
1) Dick Purdy (SM West-Lee's Summit-Lawrence) 175-60-3
2) Jeff Meyers (Olathe East) 162-75
3) Gene Weir (Olathe North) 154-30
4) Bob Lisher (Free State) 148-85
* Purdy's LST totals are not included in any SFL records

While those are only highlights of a great career on the gridiron, the work Bob Lisher has done for the Firebirds outside of Football and around Lawrence will be remembered and filling his shoes will be tough for the future of Football at Free State. 

Congrats Coach Bob Lisher on a great career, and thank you for all of your contributions! 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Sunflower Success - SM South '18

SM South Raiders Football

Off the radar. 

How does that sound for a once proud Varsity Football program, and powerhouse of the Sunflower League who, in its heyday of the 1960's and 70's of Johnson County football outright owned many of their fellow Sunflower schools. It sounds good to say. In fact, it sounds great to say. 

Long before Nall was ever considered to have four lanes, and 435 was a pipe dream of sorts for the growth economically of Kansas City suburbia, the Raiders of SM South have been ignited by Head Coach Brett Oberzan, his staff, and the support they are gaining from their student's within the school, community partners, alumni and many others. 

To give this a little more perspective, the Blue Valley Tigers of Stanley, Stillwell, KS were still the Stanley Marooners at the time. Blue Valley #229 officially became the Blue Valley Tigers, and flagship #1 of their four future high schools yet to even be built during the 69-70 school year at which time the SM Northwest Cougars became the fifth and final #512 High School.  

Off the radar. That's right. For the last 17 seasons dating back to the 2001 squad, a downturn for the worse took place in which 17 seasons of Coaching turnover (Four Head Coaches), student-athlete walkouts, and Senior pranks, led to the Raiders' darkest hours on the Friday night gridiron. For almost a decade, near empty stands, and a 'Rompin Stompin Raider Band' that outnumbered fans in the seats, and the player roster as a whole is now steadily changing and growing again. Alumni are returning to games, and the school's support is beaming with pride, and passion that at one time was lost, or perhaps dimmed. 

In those 17 years of Varsity Football prior to the 2018 season, the school accounted for a record of 
42 wins, and 116 losses in 158 games, a win percentage of just .265.  

Year - Overall-Playoffs

00 - 5-5, 0-1  
01 - 2-7 ---
02 - 3-6 ---
03 - 3-7, 0-1
04 - 4-6, 0-1
05 - 3-7, 0-1
06 - 2-7 ---
07 - 2-8, 0-1
08 - 1-8 ---
09 - 3-6 ---
10 - 2-7 ---
11 - 2-7 ---
12 - 4-5 ---
13 - 4-5 ---
14 - 3-7, 0-1
15 - 1-8 ---
16 - 0-9, 0-1
17 - 3-6, 0-1
18 - 7-3, 1-1
19 - 0-0, 0-0

For those curious, the last playoff game the Raiders won, was in the 1990 season defeating the Blue Valley North Mustangs in week-10, and soon after losing 14 straight playoff games: 

Fred Merrill - 90 (1-1) - 91 (0-1) - 92 (0-1) - 93 (0-1) - 94 (0-1) 
Brett Potts - 97 (0-1) - 00 (0-1) 
Don Hanna - 03 (0-1) - 04 (0-1) - 05 (0-1) 
Brandon Claypool - 07 (0-1)  
Ryan Lonergan - 14 (0-1) 
Brett Oberzan - 16 (0-1) - 17 (0-1) 

In all-time playoff games the Raiders are 9W - 24L. 

With those numbers broken down here is is how that looks after 158 games excluding the 2018 season: 

2001 to 2017 - South Raiders
Home 26W - 50L - 76 games played - 342 W%
Away 16W - 57L - 74 games played - 216 W%
Playoffs 0W - 7L - 7 games played - 000 W%

Totals 42W - 116L - 158 games played - 265 W%

First 25 years (1966-1990)
160W - 78L - 5T

Last 25 years (1991-2015)
90W - 146L

As this current decade of Raiders Football winds to a close, the 2018 and 2019 Football seasons under Brett Oberzan have the ability to turn this Football program around for the better. 

For those curious about the last time the Raiders had six wins or more in a season? Those are as follows:

1973 - John Davis - 11-0 State Champions
1975 - John Davis - 11-0 State Champions
1978 - John Davis - 10-1
1982 - John Davis - 9-2
1983 - John Davis - 6-4
1984 - John Davis - 6-4
1989 - Fred Merrill - 10-1 
1990 - Fred Merrill - 7-4
1992 - Fred Merrill - 7-3
1993 - Fred Merrill - 7-3
1994 - Fred Merrill - 6-4
1997 - Dr. Brett Potts - 6-4 - Principal at BV West Jaguars 

Raiders Football Accomplishments

State Titles 
1973 - 1975

Sunflower Champions 
1973 - 1975 - 1978 - 1982 - 1989

Congrats to the SM South Raiders of Overland Park, KS on a conclusion to a great season, and many more to follow. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Quick Hits - Regional Round Thoughts

With the Regional Round locked up and the keys thrown away, let's take a look at the survivors this week and my previous predictions.

"Playoff Master" Prediction Statuses:

SME-ON Rematch: BINGO! - Despite a valiant effort by the Olathe East Hawks (4-6) , the Lancers survived Regionals to take on ONHS in another rematch for the Eagles. 

Free State Will Stumble: TBD - The Firebirds took out their second 6A West opponent as expected, but will now play host to Manhattan (9-1) next Friday. Despite a mind-jarring 7-9 loss to Junction City (4-5) in Week 6, the Indians have been just as dominate as its fellow quarter-finalists, even defeating Topeka High (9-1) for that team's only loss. Bottom Line: Any and all warm up games are over and done with. Only true contenders will leave this round alive.

SM South will have a job when it comes to replacing
QB Jack Roberts. Photo Credit Needed
SMS "Surprise" Run: Welp... - 7-3 is still an incredible record and BV North (8-3) is an incredible team to go out against. That said, the Raiders will probably feel the sting of their 56-21 loss to the Mustangs. Silver lining; South can close the season knowing they may be one of the school's best teams in almost 40 years.

Olathe West will win the 5A East: 49-15 - Yes, I made this prediction as a joke with some hope sprinkled in. I had a sneaking suspicion the Owls (4-6) would get Leavenworth fever thanks again to a 6A schedule, but to hang 49 on a decent Schagle (6-4) team? Sheesh. Fun fact, Olathe West has more playoff wins (2) than Olathe Northwest (0). I hope I'm wrong with that one.

Exciting or Disappointing?

Despite games involving teams with 6 or 7 wins on their respective seasons, the Regional Round gave us another batch of teams that just ran away with things at one point or another. Out of the eight games played, only one game was decided by a single digit difference. The average point-differential was a whopping 26.6 points despite only Olathe East entering the week with a losing record. Should this be considered a disappointment or just an appetizer for what's to come?