Familiar foes

PrepsKC staff

By Kyle Palmer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: November 18, 2016 - 8:14 AM

The names of the two schools competing in Friday’s Kansas 5A East region sub-state game are the same as in 2015, but these are very different teams from those that clashed a year ago in Mill Valley.

This year, the five-seed Mill Valley Jaguars travel down I-35 to Overland Park to play at three-seed St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s the latest chapter in what may be metro interscholastic football’s newest, hottest rivalry.

Let’s start with the Saints, the home team. To say they’re on a roll would not do justice to how effortlessly they’ve scythed through three playoff games. Averaging over 400 yards of total offense, they’ve put up 46 points per contest, with an average margin of 30 points per game.

Aquinas’s program, in its third year under Hutchinson legend Randy Dreiling, has become identified with his methodical flexbone program—wingbacks, read options, timely pitches. In other words: run, run, run.

What’s scary about this year’s version of the Saints is how effective their passing game has been. Junior Will Swanson has quickly evolved into a bona fide dropback passer, and defenses are sagging so much on the run that Swanson’s favorite targets—Drew Hicks, Tristan Davis, Nick Bulleigh—are as open as Kansas wheat fields.

This was Topeka-Seaman’s hard-earned lesson last week. Swanson gouged the Vikings for first-half touchdown throws of 34 and 74 yards. The passing game was opened up by the ever-present running attack: Hicks topped 100 yards and scored twice; Swanson had two rushing TDS, and Grant Cowley and Cameron Jackson (hadn’t mentioned them yet) also had scores.

In short, no longer can Aquinas be boiled down to the word ‘flexbone.’ If they win their first title in program history this year, it will be partly because they’ve developed a potent, multifaceted offensive attack.

As for the Jags, they are the program and team other Johnson County schools envy. Relatively new, Mill Valley has established a tradition that appears as quintessential and timeless as their simple Penn St.-style uniforms.  

Last year’s championship team was widely considered the best team—top to bottom—in the state. But gone are the likes of Christian Jegen, Logan Koch, and Ben Hecht.  

No matter. The Jags still have a potent passing game and a stout defense. They’re led by an emerging star in junior quarterback Brody Flaming. He’s one of the top passers in the state with nearly 2,500 yards through the air (and 27 TDS to only 10 INTs), plus he’s rushed for over 1,100 yards.

Flaming has constantly cited the talent around him as a reason for his success. Indeed, when he drops back he has five real options: wide receivers Ben Hartman and Evan Rice, tight ends Payton Marlow or Brady Garrison through the air; or hand it off to sophomore running back Cameron Young.

Defensively, the Jags have locked it down in a four-game winning streak, giving up a shade under 15 points per game. Though they lost star D-lineman Blaine Boudreaux mid-way through the season, junior defensive end Ike Valenicia has upped his game with 4.5 sacks.

As good programs do, both Mill Valley and Aquinas have developed new talent and moved on from losing top performers from previous years. In the 2015 semifinal, won handily by Mill Valley, the Jags were led by Jegen and Koch. The Saints, likewise, had Karter Odermann and James Cosentino ringing the bell.

This year’s versions are much different. Yet, what metro-area football fans have come to expect from this budding rivalry stays true: it will be an entertaining game with the stakes as high as ever.