New faces bring first win for new coach

Jeff Stead/PrepsKC

By Andy Meyer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: August 20, 2016 - 6:03 PM

New playmakers and new coaches abounded, but the same winning tradition is still firmly in place at Staley.

A dominant defensive effort set the tone and lifted the No. 2 Falcons to a season-opening victory with a 31-13 win against fourth-ranked Liberty North in a battle of state-ranked, Class 5 programs.

Staley (1-0) scored 28 unanswered points in the middle stages of a game that finished on Saturday afternoon because of thunderstorms the previous evening.

In his first game leading the program, Staley coach Phil Lite said he was thrilled to see his team executing its game plan and competing this well during the first week of the season.

“The head coach’s face changed, but the process remains the same,” Lite said. “Our kids have grasped that. They’ve accepted that, and it holds true. You saw what it does.”

Lite replaced Fred Bouchard after last season and inherited a squad that experienced a ton of turnover, especially on defense — where the Falcons fielded nine new defensive starters.

Still, Staley’s defense set the tone from the outset and only allowed five first downs the entire game to go with three sacks and an interception.

“We played really fast and physical. We were excited to get out and hit someone else,” Staley senior linebacker Eli Ross said. “We were definitely flying around and engulfing the running game.”

Neither team could gain much momentum during the first quarter, but the contest opened up after Liberty North’s Jon Redmond took a handoff on a fourth-down play and scampered 35 yards down the sideline to give the Eagles a lead. It wouldn’t last long.

The Falcons needed than two minutes to march down the field to retake the advantage when senior running back Julian Ross reached paydirt. On his very next carry, he zipped into the end zone again and would ultimately rack up 178 yards on 30 carries, including two touchdowns.

“My mentality from every game is to take what my offensive line gives me,” Julian Ross said. “I think we sent a nice little message, and we were pretty fired up.”

Staley’s Kaleb Grego ran for another score immediately before the game was postponed with ferocious storms looming on the horizon. When it resumed, the Falcons continued to roll, as quarterback Mo Karim glided across the goal line on Staley’s first possession of the Saturday session. Karim also threw for 62 yards in his first game as starting quarterback.

“We were just picking up where we were last night,” Eli Ross said. “We basically had the same mentality. We got some good rest and kept on doing what we were doing.”

Liberty North (0-1) recovered a fumble on Staley’s next possession, and converted the turnover into points when quarterback Taylor Bayton reeled off a 74-yard touchdown run.

Ultimately, injuries and absences took their toll on the Eagles, who played without three key contributors on the offensive line. Not playing at full strength made a crucial difference, and Liberty North coach Ken Clemens said the team will be focused on eliminating miscues as it prepares for its next game.

“That was the key. We’ve got three offensive line starters not playing in this game,” Clemens said. “... Next week, we’ll have those kids back, but if we don’t get better everywhere else, the same thing’s going to happen.”

Bayton led Liberty North with 119 rushing yards on 18 carries, while Redmond amassed 45 yards.

Still, Staley limited the Eagles to just 175 yards of total offense and only experienced a handful of defensive lapses from start to finish.

“Defensively, we just felt like we were well-prepared,” Lite said. “Our kids were confident, and we had a lot of three-and-outs. And that’s just going to build confidence as the game goes along.”

Staley’s strong foundation of success allowed it to overcome so much change during a tough test at the dawn of the new season, and senior linebacker Hunter Heyne said he was proud to see the squad band together and prevail in an important clash between district rivals.

“We’ve always had the same values since the start of the program, and coach Lite has just helped continue to carry on the rich tradition that we’ve had,” Heyne said.