Tigers take down Vikings

Susie Gurley/Special to PrepsKC

By Ryan Wallace PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: November 6, 2015 - 11:46 PM

The Shawnee Mission West defense did all they could for a half. Creating turnovers, putting pressure on veteran quarterback Colton McCumber, and playing with the same physicality that earned them a 7-2 record, the Vikings kept coming.

Eventually though, as most foes have this season, the steam engine that is Blue Valley rushing duo AJ Totta and William Evans proved too powerful in the regional round of the 6A playoffs, as the Tigers rolled on to sectionals with a 37-14 victory.

“We do a lot of two-back stuff,” began head coach Eric Driskell on his pair of rushers. “(Shawnee Mission West) kind of took our QB game out of it, so we went to those guys. They’re both physical and play so hard, but different in their own ways. It’s very nice (having them).”

Touching the ball on roughly 42-percent of the Tigers first-half snaps, Totta used his 216-pound frame as a battering ram, setting up Driskell’s tempo early on. Whether it was short calls up the gut for minimal yardage or a surprising burst down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown, keyed by a block from receiver Reid Kosic, the 5-foot-10 senior dictated the Blue Valley attack in what could be the final home game of his career.

“I didn’t want this to be the last game with my brothers,” said Totta, who scored once on the night before leaving the game with a minor injury in the third quarter. “I’ve played with some of them for four years, most of them even longer. I guess I just wanted to inflict punishment so it didn’t have to be my last game.”

While Totta carried the load for 6A’s No. 4 seeded squad, the Vikings managed to answer without their star running back. After rushing for 133 yards against Blue Valley North a week before, reigning Papa John’s Player of the Week Nigil Houston was unable to perform on Friday. Instead, head coach Tim Callaghan turned to sophomore Dre McCallop, who frustrated the Blue Valley defense by evading tackles left and right.

“We were down to our fifth running back, but they’ve been battling all year with a ‘next man up’ attitude,” stated Callaghan after the loss. “I’m really proud of the young kids and sad to see the season end for a group of seniors that have put in a ton of work.”

Still a back and forth affair as both sides took the field to begin the second half, Blue Valley clinging to a 21-14 advantage, the Tigers seized momentum on a pair of energizing, back to back runs from Evans and Totta.

“I mean, myself and Will, we look for big runs to run people over because it gets a lot of momentum going,” said Totta, smiling as he recalled a series which saw Evans bowl over a Viking defender on a ten yard gain, followed by another demolition on an 18-yard blast from the aforementioned bruiser. “Once Will did it, it pumped everybody up and I said, ‘Okay, I gotta do it now’. It fueled our fire.”

“He just gives you everything he’s got every time he touches the ball,” Driskell expanded on Totta’s style. “I wouldn’t want to tackle him on a night like tonight.”

Even with Totta sidelined only a matter of plays later, McCumber and the offense managed to find the end zone with 7:48 remaining in the third quarter to extend the Tigers lead to 14 at 28-14.

The effective intensity carried over to the defense as well. Shawnee Mission West signal caller Adam Rellihan managed to orchestrate a pair of much-needed drives but came up short both times. The first major stop came on a designed blitz by Jake Watkins on a critical third down late in the third quarter, pushing the Vikings out of the red zone and ending the threat of a potential score. The following drive saw the Blue Valley defense once again rise to the occasion, after Lawson Holbert picked off Rellihan. Tack on a safety with 7:37 left in the fourth quarter and another McCumber touchdown after a 38-yard reception from lead target Taylor Debey, and the Vikings sat in an insurmountable hole incapable of mustering a comeback.

“I think it was our best team win of the year,” said Debey, who seemed to match the rushing dynamics with a handful of rousing receptions of his own. “We really spread the ball out to do what we needed to do.”

Playing arguably their best ball in November sure is a far cry from the path the Tigers appeared destined to walk after a pair of deflating losses to Blue Valley North and St. Thomas Aquinas in early October.

“We have a character theme each week and pick and choose what’s the most important thing to learn to help these players become better men,” Driskell says. “Last week, I really felt that we came together as a team. Guys were happy for everybody and that was something to build on. It’s a really good feeling to see where we’re at.”

Of course, one of three remaining EKL members will need that spirit to continue next week because another Sunflower League power waits in the wings, the No. 1 seed Lawrence Lions who may be the best (if not most intimidating) team in the state regardless of classification.

“I know they’re undefeated and they have a fast running back- that’s about it,” admitted Debey of the challenge to come. “Our defense has to do their job and our offense, if we play the way we did tonight, can spread things out.  We need to be the more physical team and that’s something we preach all year, but we do that and we have a shot.”