The year of Mill Valley
By Matt Gerstner PrepsKC staff writer
Piper seemingly posed the first threat to Mill Valley’s four-game Kaw Valley League blowout streak since the Jaguars’ opening loss to Manhattan. Add in the fact that the Pirates came in with a four-game win streak of their own, putting the Kaw Valley League championship on the line, Friday night was shaping up to be a good game.
But the Pirates broke a cardinal rule of football. Don’t turn the ball over to a lethal offense.
The Jaguars made them pay dearly, scoring 35 points off six Piper turnovers and claiming their fifth straight victim by way of a 56-18 shelling.
“This was a big game for us, being the last one before districts,” Mill Valley head coach Joel Applebee said. “We always say we want to be playing good football right around this time. Piper is a great team, but our kids responded well out there, and we did a great job tonight.”
It marks the fifth straight week that the Jaguars scored at least 47 points and gave up less than 20.
“We came out with a chip on our shoulder after the first week,” Kendall Short, who had one score on the ground and another through the air, said. “We expect to be the best, and we’ve really been improving since then.”
As has been the case all year in conference play, Mill Valley came out hot, with L.J. Hatch opening up the scoring with a 44-yard touchdown catch off quarterback Skyler Windmilller’s scramble, starting off a wild first half.
Piper would answer back as quickly as possible with Travon Jones taking the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to the house. The extra point would sail right, however, preserving the Jaguar lead by one.
Piper would commit their first turnover in Mill Valley territory on a fumbled handoff, and Windmiller and Short would take the ball down to the nine before Windmiller called his own number to take it in for the score.
The Pirates’ second transgression came by way off an interception off a tipped pass by quarterback Tanner Eikenbary. Windmilller would get his second touchdown through the air, this time going to Staton Rebeck on a 37-yard shovel pass on the first play of the second quarter, to put the Jags up 21-6.
Piper answered back with an eight play, 59-yard drive capped off by a Sean Eskina 20-yard touchdown grab. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the score at 21-12. Rebeck would find the endzone again later in the quarter on a 58-yard punt return, but Piper would not say die.
Eikenbary would find Paul Jones on a 19-yard touchdown catch with 1:30 left in the half to cut the lead to 28-18. That would be the closest the Pirates would get. Mill Valley would take just four plays and 36 seconds to go 61 yards, with Short grabbing his first score of the game on a 35-yard touchdown catch to give Mill Valley the 35-18 halftime lead.
A quiet third quarter would end with the score staying the same, with Piper unable to capitalize on two uncharacteristic three-and-outs by the Jaguar offense. Two drives into Mill Valley territory would prove unfruitful as kicker Jose Meija would miss two 40-plus-yard field goals.
“That was the key in the game, I think,” head coach Chris Brindle said. “We had too many mistakes and too many turnovers in this game against a good team.”
But as the fourth quarter started, the Jags would etch their name on the conference trophy.
Hatch would get a one-yard touchdown grab for his second of the night off another interception, Short would race 44 yards following another Piper pick, and the Jaguar reserves would add one more for good measure off a muffed squib kick to end the game.
“Our kids fought until the end, even though the scoreboard may not say so,” Brindle said. “Going up against a bigger school like that is always tough.”
With conference play wrapped up, the attention turns to district play leading to the playoffs. Piper comes back home for a matchup with 4-2 Atchison, with Mill Valley traveling to Schlagle, also 4-2.
For Piper, it’s a matter of turning around after their hot streak turned cold. But Brindle believes that shouldn’t be a problem.
“It didn’t affect us last year after we lost (right before districts), and this year, we’ve come back focused after big wins,” he said. “I’m confident we’ll bounce back. These kids have proven they can get right onto the next game.”
As for the Jaguars, it’s riding the wind that has easily carried them through the past five weeks.
“Our kids have really bought into the mentality of getting better every week,” Applebee said. “They believe that they can win every week, and it shows. I think this team has a chance to go a long way. Schlagle is athletic, but if we believe and practice well like we have all year, I think we make a run.”
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