Oak Grove plasters Grain Valley in rivalry win
By Stephen Bubalo PrepsKC staff writer
Grain Valley head coach Jimmy Tucker was asked about his team’s opponent Friday night – Class 3 fourth-ranked Oak Grove – about what he saw and if they were as good a team as advertised.
“They’re really good,” Tucker put it bluntly.
There wasn’t really much else for Tucker to say after the Panthers put it on the Eagles in impressive fashion, moving to 8-0 with a 54-7 win.
The matchup had the potential for an Oak Grove letdown, as the Panthers were coming off their biggest win of the season, beating then third-ranked Harrisonville, who has been a mainstay in the Class 4 rankings for several years.
But playing against a nearby rival may have been just what Oak Grove needed, according to head coach Pat Richard.
“The schedule worked out perfect for us because we got to play a rival after a big win, which is great,” he said. “Tuesday at practice there was no indication of a letdown. It’s a tribute to the kids.”
The message this week to the kids was a pretty simple one – don’t get cocky.
“That was an emotional win,” sophomore running back Aaron Graham said of beating Harrisonville. “We talked about not letting our heads get big and to keep the tempo up. We kept our heads level and did what we had to do.”
And they did it early and often.
The Panthers were perfect on their first eight drives, punching home a touchdown on each occasion as the Eagles had no answer for the Oak Grove rushing attack.
Graham and Tyler Brown reaped the most benefits of a dominant offensive line. Graham scored the first touchdown, scampering in from 3 yards out, followed by Brown scoring from 2 yards out on the next possession. Quarterback Jonathan Latshaw found Tanner Kanak from 16 yards out for the third and final score in the first quarter to make it 21-0.
Those three scores all came quick, happening in the last six minutes of the quarter.
“Coach talked about hitting them hard at the beginning of the game and not letting off the gas,” Graham said. “That’s what we did.”
The second quarter was more of the same, as Latshaw, Graham twice and Levi Harmon all had touchdown runs for a 47-0 lead at the half.
“We were pretty basic. They packed the box and we have some good team speed and that allowed us to run outside,” Richard said of the offensive game plan. “It’s fun to coach. We can call a variety of things. A lot of that is due to the offensive line. They allow the kids to have those gaps.
“We’ll grind, grind, grind and then we’ll make someone miss a tackle and go to the goal line. We’ve been running and wearing people down.”
Everyone got in on the praise for the offensive line, including Graham – “I couldn’t do it without my lineman” – and even Tucker.
“We tried to do a few different things but it probably backfired on us,” Tucker said of trying to defend the run. “The biggest thing is their offensive line does a great job.”
Not to be overlooked was the Panther defense, as they continued what has been an impressive season. The first-team defense didn’t allow a touchdown and had three interceptions, including two in the first quarter that led to scores.
“They’ve been great all year,” Richard said. “We gave up some short passes early, so we made a couple of adjustments and that stopped. The kids are physical and they fly to the football.”
The Eagles dropped to 2-6 with the loss and they’ll close out the regular season next Friday against Odessa. Tucker tried to find some silver linings after the loss.
“I saw some good things on offense on that first drive and all the drives in the second half,” he said. “We just couldn’t punch it in. We’re not making the big play right now.”
Oak Grove will now get a chance to play for the school’s first perfect regular season since 1999 and a conference title when they host Excelsior Springs next week.
“They’ve spent a year in the weight room,” Richard said of the team’s improvement from a season ago. “We’ve had nine months. Now is the payoff. They’re getting back what they put in. We’re bigger, faster, stronger and more physical than we were last year.”
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