In familiar territory

Nick Smith/PrepsKC

By Kyle Palmer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: November 11, 2016 - 10:55 PM

Mill Valley senior linebacker Josh Winscott said he was “speechless” after his team’s 28-14 sectional playoff win over Eastern Kansas League rival St. James Academy.

Knowing it was the last home game of his career, Winscott said he wanted to “come in with a lot of heart and hustle.” He ended up making the play that tilted the game the Jags’ way. 

“Honestly, it wasn’t that big a play,” he said afterwards, as teammates and family celebrated on the field. “I just did my job. I saw the receiver coming in, and I picked it off. Got lucky.”

For a half, the defending 5A champions were pushed to a tie with St. James, which was looking to advanced passed sectionals for the first time in program history.

With the game locked up at 14-14, Winscott intercepted St. James quarterback Sammy Wheeler on the Thunder’s first possession after halftime. He returned it 19 yards to the St. James 31. Mill Valley ran seven efficient plays and sophomore running back Cameron Young dove in from three yards out for what ultimately proved to be the decisive score.

“We made adjustments after the half, we’re a second half team. We know that,” Winscott said.

The Jags defense would go on to hold the Thunder scoreless for the rest of the game, picking off Wheeler again and forcing St. James into three failed fourth-down conversions.

“Really, we had some dropped balls in the second half,” St. James Coach Tom Radke said. “Sammy had some good balls, but we had some miscommunication. Mill Valley came hard of the defensive ends, and their linebackers made some plays and stopped our drives. We didn’t make plays on third and fourth downs, that’s what it comes down to.”

On the night, St. James went 2-for-10 on third down, and 1-for-4 on fourth down.

Before Winscott’s interception, the two teams—who had opened the season against each other on the same field with Mill Valley winning handily—looked evenly matched. In fact, St. James held the advantage for much of the first half.

The Thunder opened the scoring with a 10-play drive that ate up 4:05. Wheeler, who led his battered team in rushing this season, ran in from 10 yards out. Thomas Stark’s extra point made it 7-0.

Mill Valley responded with their own 9-play drive. Junior quarterback Brody Flaming, who came into sectionals with more than 3,300 all-purpose yards, made a 16-yard dash to the corner pylon for a touchdown. A missed extra point kept St. James on top 7-6.  

“We needed to settle down early, just play our game,” Mill Valley coach Joel Applebee said. “But I think we are definitely now playing the best football of our season. We just keep getting better week after week.”

St. James went back on top the very next drive, another 10-play affair that spanned 80 yards and nearly four minutes of clock. This time, Wheeler found fellow senior Clay Lautt for a 10 yard touchdown pass. The Thunder led 14-6.

Mill Valley strung together some critical plays late in the first half to tie it minutes before the break. The Jags converted four third downs on a 14-play, 5-minute drive. Flaming found senior wide receiver Ben Hartman on an impressive fade route into the back corner of the end zone.

Then, Flaming tied it when he scrambled to find Young in the end zone for a two-point conversion. It was 14-14 at the half.

Hartman, who got the touchdown grab, is part of a senior class Applebee credited with helping the Jags’ overcome a four-game losing streak earlier this season. They’ve now won four in a row.

“It says a lot to the senior class, to step up and go through rough stretches and still keeping their heads up,” Applebee said.

The Jags stymied St. James after the break. As the St. James offense stalled, Young went to work for Mill Valley. The sophomore carried 23 times for 117 yards and two second-half scores. One after Winscott’s interception and another in the final 90 seconds, which iced the game.

“I felt a bit off in the first half,” Young said. “But I just try to hit the hole hard. I’d like to think I’m a physical runner for my size.”

Now, Mill Valley seeks redemption in sub-state at St. Thomas Aquinas. The two EKL teams played a scintillating game last month that the Saints won 40-33.

Again, when thinking about next Friday, Winscott was speechless.

“I’m beyond looking forward to, it will be…”

That says it all.