As good as advertised

Sean Kosednar/PrepsKC

By Ryan Wallace PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: November 19, 2016 - 1:23 AM

Weaving his way through a euphoric crowd that had mobbed midfield, Blue Valley quarterback Matt Dercher made his way towards familiar faces amidst hugs, handshakes, and the screams of Tiger fans. Painted with a smile from ear to ear, the delirious nature of the night was evident in the senior’s voice.

“We practiced that play the last few weeks but we hadn’t really needed it,” an exhausted Dercher blurted out in the thick of a postgame celebration after his Blue Valley Tigers defeated Shawnee Mission East in overtime to advance to a second straight 6A championship. “Thank God we had it! Everything went as planned, I trusted everyone on this team to get it done and this is awesome.”

The match-up all of Kansas City had patiently waited for in Kansas’ largest class lived up to the hype and then some in this 35-34 thriller for the ages.  Dictated largely by two balanced but schematically different offenses, the contest held a backyard football feel throughout; whoever controls possession last will win. In the end, that’s exactly what happened.

Battling through a 13-6 first half that saw the leading Tigers miss a PAT and the Lancers fail to convert an opening score two-point conversion, Shawnee Mission East blasted through the cold air to open the third quarter with an opening play, 77-yard touchdown on the legs of powerful junior rusher Milton Braasch. 

It was a taste of things to come on both sides for the game’s remainder, trading blows in the rushing game.

“The adjustments we made, the kids came out and executed them,” Shawnee Mission East head coach Dustin Delaney said afterwards. “Our kids just kept battling and battling and coming back. I couldn’t be more proud of them as a coach.”

Finishing the game with 408-yards on the ground, the Sunflower League champion’s triple option attack hammered Blue Valley up the middle with the six-foot, 210-pound Braasch before turning to the more electric Nigil Houston for speed around the corners. Answering the Tigers not once but twice over the final two quarters of play, credit the Shawnee Mission East offensive line for charging each small comeback and churning out a near 7-yard average per carry overall.

“It’s hard to defend everything they do,” admitted a relieved Blue Valley head coach Eric Driskell. “It’s just tough to stop it all. You get something going and they dial up a great play and block it differently, so hats off to those guys because they do a tremendous job coaching up those kids.”

Of course, Blue Valley wasn’t without a workhorse of its own in the form of senior tailback William Evans. Throughout the game, when the spread passing attack stalled on a windy evening in Stilwell, it was the six-foot, 207-pound rusher who converted for the Tigers.

“We obviously sold out to try and stop the pass,” said Delaney on Evans, who tallied 208-yards on 33 carries with two touchdowns. “We kept making them drive the length of the field and take away the big play.”

“All my success goes to my lineman,” a humble Evans stated in the middle of a myriad of family photos near the 50-yard line. “They’re the unsung heroes. I love them to death and this was them.”

“We just powered through.”

Powered through on just about every occasion but one, a goal line stand by the Lancers that nearly came back to bite the home side’s top ranked team.

With Blue Valley leading 27-19 with just over seven minutes remaining, a consistent batch of Evans runs had put the Tigers at the two-yard line facing a fourth and goal. After a Tiger timeout, Driskell dialed up a rare Wildcat-QB wrinkle with Evans in shotgun. Bobbling the snap into the air near his right shoulder pad, the senior rusher wound up corralling the pigskin but not before a host of Lancer defenders powered him to the ground at the one-yard line to bring their offense back on the field for a final attempt at a tie.

“I really thought if we didn’t bobble the snap we would’ve scored there,” Driskell said. “I thought our kids were playing more physical and we would’ve made it, but we didn’t.  It was just a moment where we had been grinding that thing out and thought we could end it right there. It didn’t happen.”

Six and a half minutes later, Blue Valley’s defense was emotionally and physically drained after allowing Shawnee Mission East to charge 99-yards and cash in a second Houston touchdown. Facing a game-tying two-point conversion, the Tigers defense whiffed on a misdirection pitch to a sprinting Trevor Thompson who brought the visiting sideline to its feet, trotting inside the pylon as the score moved to 27-27 with a minute left.

Momentum clearly on the side of the one-loss Lancers, Shawnee Mission East’s offense again took the ball first in the opening overtime period and wasted little time silencing the massive Blue Valley crowd with a two-play, four-yard dive from Braasch.

Slowly making their way back to the huddle after Evans dropped a short pass from Dercher on the change of possession, Blue Valley turned to its receiving star Harrison Van Dyne to tack on six points on a second-down slant pattern.

Drama ensues.

“I’ll tell you, I went into the huddle thinking I’m going to go for two,” detailed the winning head coach. “I asked the other coaches what they thought and they thought it was a good idea. Then I called the timeout to ask the kids, ‘Do you want to go for two or kick this?’ They all looked at me and said let’s do it coach.”

“They show that formation so it wasn’t unique,” countered Delaney when questioned about what he saw before the two-point conversion snap took place. “Everybody has a hidden bag of two-point tricks, so I figured it’d be something like that.”

“The main thing I was concerned about was how much pressure they were going to get on us because it’s a play that takes time to develop,” finished Driskell on his gutsy call. “The offensive line did a good job up front of protecting and then we sent our two top receivers possession wise the other way to draw some attention. When it went in the air, I didn’t see the catch. I just knew it was caught.”

Described by the Blue Valley leader as a great, young receiver, 6-foot-1 junior Blake Brown curled past the decoy unnoticed as the Lancer secondary drifted to the left. As Dercher looked up from a drop-step in the opposite direction, the two made eye contact and the senior signal caller heaved a ten-yard pass back towards the home sideline, landing safely in the arms of a running Brown for a dramatic berth in next Saturday’s playoff finale.

“It sucks pretty bad to be on the wrong end of a game like that,” a heartbroken Delaney said standing as his players walked behind towards the locker room. “It was awesome but we came up one play short tonight. Credit Blue Valley. They have great players, great staff, and a great tradition over there.”

That renowned history now travels to Emporia and a second-straight 6A title clash with a familiar foe and playoff nemesis, the Derby Panthers. Undefeated in 23-straight games dating back to last season, including a 27-14 victory over Blue Valley in the 2015 championship, the state’s top ranked squad provides the biggest challenge the EKL winners have faced and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We want to get some revenge and win state,” Dercher said of the upcoming battle.

“It’s something we’ve been waiting for,” added Evans. “Derby’s a great team and we know that. It’s going to be a great game but it’s definitely one we’ve been waiting for.”