With the second round of the playoffs slated for Friday in Kansas, coaches of the remaining 16 teams in each classification will be spending the next few days trying to figure out how to slow down high-powered offenses and solve stingy defenses. However, the Class 4A first-round matchup between Piper and Basehor-Linwood served as an important reminder that special teams can’t be overlooked.
The Pirates’ 56-47 win over the Bobcats accounted for one of just three upsets in the first round of the 4A playoffs. Piper erased a 19-point third quarter deficit against Basehor-Linwood, and special teams had a lot to do with it. With the Pirates trailing 37-18 with 10:44 remaining in the third quarter, junior Brandon Snell jump-started the Piper’s run of 22 unanswered points with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Snell also recovered a muffed punt return and took it to the house in the first quarter to cut Basehor-Linwood’s lead to 9-6.
Piper coach Rick Pollard was pleased to see the practice his team has put in on special teams pay off in such a big way during the first-round victory.
“We rep it all the time. That’s why we practice it,” Pollard said. “There’s three parts of the game. You’ve got to practice all three. We put a lot of time into it. Our kids take it seriously and know they can score at any minute.”
The first-round shootout only had two field goals, but both came in the fourth quarter. Basehor-Linwood’s Nate Parkison connected on a 26-yard field goal to give the Bobcats a 47-46 edge with 11:56 to go, but Piper’s Miles Lockridge had an answer when he drilled a 36-yard attempt with 6:58 remaining to put the Pirates in front for good.
The first points of the game also came on a special teams play, as Lockridge was tackled in the end zone for a safety on an attempted punt. The Bobcats scored in all three phases of the game, Basehor-Linwood coach Rod Stallbaumer acknowledged that a couple of mistakes on special teams proved to be very costly in his team’s first-round exit.
“This time of year, special teams makes such a huge difference. When you play good teams, that hidden yardage is critical,” Stallbaumer said. “We gave them way too much. That kick return absolutely gave them momentum back and the fumble. We’ve got to play better in all facets of the game.”
The Pirates know they’ll have their hands full during Friday’s second-round tilt against undefeated Paola. The Panthers handed the Pirates a 43-16 loss in Week 6, so Pollard knows his squad will have to turn in a much crisper all-around performance to secure a spot in the sectional round next week. As the Pirates’ win over the Bobcats proved, the attention to detail in special teams will play a big role in Piper’s preparation for the Panthers.