Wildcats may get Bubba-less Blazers
By Jim Woods
No surprise to anyone that follows Frontier League or northeastern Kansas football. Gardner has the juice to win the league. But do they have it for playoff football in class 5A? That remains to be seen. There is no argument that junior quarterback Bubba Starling has the most tools and may be the one of the best ever, in this area, to play the game. However at mid-week, word on the street was he is out for a couple weeks with a right shoulder injury. Can you hear the shudders in the baseball scouts!
If that is the case, the Louisburg Wildcats have had the playing field significantly leveled for Friday night's game in Gardner. Especially since the Wildcats have demonstrated a very stingy defense. Unfortunately it's first three foes, Otta-shoulda-win-games, but don't, traditionally lame, the too-easy-to-ride Broncos of Spring Hill and annually De-can't-depend-upon-Soto! This week will be different.
Last week Louisburg's brought it's C+ game beating the DeSoto Wildcats. They knew it and so should Gardner. The 2009 Wildcats are a good football team, with a dicey-to-deal with defense. The question is does Louisburg have an A game, because that is what it will take, Bubba Starling or not, to prevail over the Trailbazers.
While classified 5A, the Coach Diener's Trailblazers have the talent level of a half dozen of the best 4A teams in Kansas. In recent years the Wildcats have had two chances to "win it all" but haven't figured out how to handle well coached teams with equal or better talent.
Louisburg perennially relies on its usually effective running game. It works perfectly against the bottom two-thirds of the League. But defensively "stack the box" with equal or better talent and any rushing offense will struggle. Those games are usually won on turnovers and field position, neither which are guaranteed.
One possible antidote, practice passing routes and timing throwing and catching the football, particularly against the weak teams, the ones Louisburg knows it can run over. Both of the Wildcats quarterbacks, currently senior Drew Harding and injured junior Kody Cook can throw an accurate, catchable ball.
It doesn't matter, play action off a strong running game or straight drop back, in recent years the Wildcats have never been able to complete enough passes to consistently challenge "stacked aggressive" opposing defenses. Those defenses that are guaranteed to be seen deep into the playoffs and a defense they will face Friday night against the Trailblazers.
The Wildcats have the defense and "Iron Man Roberts" to make it a game. Perhaps some play action or drop back passes can or must be completed. Regardless, I still think Gardner will prevail!
Panthers to face Eudora Cardinals
The Paola Panthers will return to the friendly confines of Panther Stadium Friday night, September 25, 2009 to take on the undefeated Eudora Cardinals. The Panthers are coming off a rough game at Gardner last Friday, as they were defeated by the high flying Gardner-Edgerton High School Trailblazers in a battle of ranked teams 42-14. The loss, Paola’s first of the year dropped the Panthers to fourth place in the Frontier League after three games, trailing Gardner, Louisburg and this week’s opponent Eudora.
The Cardinals are coming off three straight victories, including two shut-outs, the most recent a 7-0 win over the Ottawa Cyclones last Friday. Even in the game which the Cardinals allowed points, a 27-6 win over DeSoto two weeks ago, the defense was not credited with giving up the score. But don’t let the Cardinals pristine defensive stats fool you, Eudora has put those numbers up against three of the less formidable offenses in the Frontier League, and with games against Paola, Louisburg and Gardner on the horizon, Cardinal Head Coach Gregg Webb knows things might change.
“Our defense has been okay,” Webb said. I guess the bottom line is points and in reality our defense hasn’t given up any. The only points we’ve given up were on offense. We fumbled and DeSoto picked it up and scored. But saying that -- We’ve got a long way to go.”
Indeed, and putting up nearly perfect numbers against three teams that have a combined one win will be quite a bit different than trying to continue those numbers against three teams that have a combined one loss and are all three ranked in the top of their divisions in the state of Kansas.
“We have given up way to many yards on first down, and haven’t always been technique sound.” Webb said. “But we’ve found a way to keep teams out of the endzone. We will have to be TONS better if we want to slow down Paola”
Defensively, the Cardinals are lead by Boomer Mays who has 21 tackles and 24 assists on the season to lead the team, close behind is Caleb Clayton-Molby with 11 tackles and 26 assists. Hawley Montgomery has 21 total tackles and a host of other Cardinal players are in double figures for stops through the first three games of the season. Coach Webb knows though, even with good numbers on the defensive side of the ball, stopping the Panther offense will be a challenge.
“They are very good up front and have some kids that can make plays if we let them.” Webb continued. “The keys will be to play extremely hard on every snap, but also be strong on technique on every snap. If we get two stops but aren’t sound on the third play then we’re back lining up for first and ten again.”
Offensively the Panthers will look to attack the Cardinal defense just as they have the previous three games of the season. Skylar Hawkins junior standout running back will be looking to start a new 100 yard per game streak, as his 13 game run of breaking the century mark in rushing ended at Gardner as the Trailblazers held him to just 40 yards. On a brighter note though, Sophomore Quarterback Seth Kern had his best game of the year as the Panthers signal caller, as he broke though the Blazer defense for 140 yards on 16 carries and scored both the Panther touchdowns. The breakout game by Kern will give the Cardinals something more to think about in preparations for the game. Defensively for the Panthers, it might seem they would be questioning themselves following the 42-14, but overall the Panther defense didn’t play that poorly, rather they just got a great big dose of Bubba Starling. The Gardner all everything junior quarterback sliced and diced the Panther defense for over 200 yards on the ground and nearly 100 through the air. Granted, the Panthers may not have won the game if the Blazers were playing without Starling, but, it is safe to say it would have been closer.
In Eudora, the Panthers will be facing an offense not nearly as potent as the Blazers, as the Cardinals are still searching for an offensive identity, three games into the season.
“We have not been very efficient on offense, we really haven’t found an identity yet,” Webb said. “We don’t have true tailback, so we’ve moved some people around and tried to change formations a little, but we haven’t been able to settle in on what we are best at. We’re still searching and consequently aren’t very good at any of it yet.”
The Cardinals are lead by Evan Cleveland averaging 90 yards per game (53 carries for 270 yards) on the ground and Boomer Mays averaging 51 yards (28 carries for 153 yards) per game. Drew Noble is the Cardinal signal caller and on the season he is 11 of 28 passing for 256 yards or 85 yards per game. An offensive juggernaut they are not, but that does not preclude the fact the Cardinals are still undefeated.
Even bringing in an unblemished record, with a defense that has not allowed a team to cross the goal line, Coach Webb knows this will not be an easy game, and the next three games will tell his team a lot about what it is made of.
“These three games will be good indicators of where we’re at,” Webb said. “We have not been great and if we don’t get better we could easily be 3-3 when this is all said and done.”
Webb thanks his schedule for letting his team get their legs under them, but he knows the first three games were a tune-up to the next three and then district play.
“We’ve had a good schedule in that we got some teams the first three weeks that we could compete with and work out the bugs,” Webb said. And now we get the better teams in our league and they will expose our weaknesses before our district games start.”
District Game 1
District Game 2
District Game 3