Strength in numbers

Ryan Wallace/PrepsKC

By Ryan Wallace PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: September 11, 2015 - 11:04 PM

Blue Valley senior Colton McCumber is the lifeblood of the Tigers football program. After a week one victory over Shawnee Mission Northwest, the veteran quarterback was leading the 6A class in rushing yards with 238 and had Blue Valley looking like a legitimate threat for another state title.

So when McCumber left the game after the opening drive against Blue Valley West on Friday night at the Blue Valley District Activities Complex, few in the stands had high hopes for what would come next: A 34-24 takedown of one of the top teams in the 5A class, led by... Matthew Dercher. 

“Well, I didn’t expect him to play first of all,” head coach Eric Driskell said of Dercher. “He’s a pretty poised kid. I think it was the first or second play he pulls down the zone read and throws the bubble and I was like, ‘Okay’.”

“He’s a pretty savvy quarterback and the kids just rallied around him. Hats off to him because it was a really, really great effort by him to come in during a pressure situation and make some great plays.”

Standing a meager 5-foot-11, 158-pounds, the junior backup was abruptly put under center after McCumber could not return following a rare mistake on the game’s opening snap. Chasing a rolling pigskin out of the end zone, Blue Valley’s star tumbled hard on the back end line, toppled by a pair of Jaguars, and jogged gingerly to the sideline rotating his non-throwing arm.

“(McCumber) is fine,” noted Driskell afterwards. “He was a little sore from his game last week, but practiced all week. He had treatment with doctors before tonight’s game and his arm just went numb. I do think he’ll be fine though. He’ll be fine.”

Nevertheless, smelling blood, the home squad from West then utilized a 10-play scoring drive that spanned over five minutes, as senior quarterback Nathan Wiles, with a defender wrapped around his ankles, managed to stay upright long enough to connect with Cole Richenburg inside the pylon to extend the Jaguars lead to 9-0.

“I thought we were much better this game than we were last game and we corrected things,” said Blue Valley West head coach Scott Wright after the loss. “Especially when you don’t play well offensively the week before, I was pleased with the way the guys responded and played with some poise.”

“We had them reeling a little bit and let them off the hook. You just can’t let a good team like that off the hook.”

Clearly nervous on his initial snaps, Driskell remained patient with Dercher’s ability to orchestrate a comeback. After a third drive stalled with a punt, the junior eventually found his comfort zone in the pocket early in the second quarter. With help from classmate Gus Gomez through the air, the Tigers drove through the West defense ending with a Dercher read-option cutback scamper from 18 yards out. The rest was history.

“I played a little bit last week, but I was still nervous,” admitted No. 14 shortly after the final whistle blew.  “Right when I scored that run, I just knew, ‘I can do this’. I believed in myself and my teammates. They helped me out and we did a great job.”

From there, the physical defense patented by Tigers defensive coordinator Rick McNerlin kicked into old form, as Blue Valley held the duo of Wiles and running back John Lacy in check as Blue Valley West was held scoreless until late in the third quarter.

The real story here though remains the play under center from Dercher. Seeing just his second varsity action in a Blue Valley uniform, the backup was able to stretch Wright’s defense vertically when it counted most.

“First time being in, he was a little rusty but once he got in a groove he was doing really good,” added wide receiver Gus Gomez, who tallied a touchdown on the night. “I feel like once he got a couple runs in, he felt like he belonged and guys were telling him, ‘You got this’.”

“It shows we have depth and talented players.”

Once Dercher was able to prove his worth through the air, the 6A power was able to fall back into their true comfort zone, stuffing the ball into the chests of thunder and lightning rushers AJ Totta and William Evans. Totta, a throwback to the leather helmet days of bruising ground gains, busted his 216-pound frame into the heart of the Jaguar defense and, in the case something with more flash was required, the wheels of Evans were able to find the sideline and burst up field for valuable yards.

“My offensive line played great and they helped us out,” Dercher said on the men up front. “On every pass play, the defense wasn’t close to me and it helped me get comfortable.”

“I think so,” agreed Wright when asked if his team might’ve worn down in the trenches. “But I’ll tell you what – we’re much more pleased with those guys up front this week than we were last week.”

Looking ahead in the Eastern Kansas League, the Jaguars may finally get a chance to breathe after a rough opening slate to 2015. Following losses to two undefeated 6A powers in Blue Valley and Lawrence, Blue Valley West has the fortune of entertaining Blue Valley North and Gardner Edgerton the next two weeks. Meanwhile, for the 2-0 Tigers, next week’s contest with a fellow undefeated, Bishop Miege, figures to be one of the metro’s most heated affairs with the likelihood of a league title at stake.

“We have a huge task ahead of us,” the sixth-year Blue Valley head coach said about next week’s monster match-up. “They’re a great team – always are – and it’s a big rivalry game, so it’s going to be fun.”

The only question now is which quarterback Blue Valley will throw into the fire against the Stags. Luckily for the Tigers, they now have two worthy options.

“It does make you feel pretty good to know we have a little depth there,” chuckled Driskell. “Especially since we like to run our (quarterbacks) a little bit.”

“This one’s up there,” responded Dercher when asked where the night’s performance stood in his football career, before moving forward with maturity. “But I’m just going to do whatever coach needs me to do and play my role on the team to help us do whatever we need to win.”