One last time

Nick Smith/PrepsKC

By Ryan Wallace PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: November 4, 2017 - 12:26 AM

Historically regarded as one of Kansas City’s best rushing programs, Olathe North’s offense entered Friday night’s regional playoff game as merely a byline to the explosive attack of Dante Jackson and Lawrence. Then the whistle blew, junior Daymonn Sanchez took over, and the Eagles proved just how dangerous they can be, winning handedly 35-14.

“It’s a huge rivalry and we made a big deal out of it,” said Olathe North head coach Chris McCartney after presenting his team with new hardware at the game’s conclusion. “The kids responded and we did exactly what we wanted to do.”

Out of the gate, it didn’t appear as though North would have the success it wound up having. Punting on the first possession and held on the one-yard line after a seven-play drive on its second offensive series, the No. 3 seeded squad leaned heavily on its defense to step up and rise to the occasion.

Holding the Lions scoreless through the first half, McCartney’s defensive unit forced three punts. However, it was two, first-quarter stops that truly seemed to deflate Lawrence and energize the home crowd. First, it was senior defensive lineman Drew Rediger stepping up to hold on a fourth and one, then junior Devin Stoker’s coverage on what could’ve been a Jalen Dudley touchdown pass.

“The first quarter,” began a somber veteran Lawrence head coach Dirk Wedd in postgame. “We had a good drive and couldn’t pick up a fourth and one. Then we came right back down and had an ugly series on first and ten at the twelve. We didn’t score any points out of those two and that hurt us a lot because we have to take advantage of every opportunity like that.”

“We’re small and they just wore us out.”

Of course, for everything the defense was able to do, the offense seemed to provide the fuel for the night. Rotating in multiple rushers out of a variety of formations, Olathe North repeatedly punished Lawrence on the ground, tacking off big gains when they were needed most. From a 35-yard run by Sanchez at the end of the first-quarter that set up a 29-yard completion from junior Zac Krause to senior Jacob Large, to a second-quarter scamper by Sanchez of 38-yards on third and three to put the Eagles up 14-0, to a 37-yard rush from freshman Arland Bruce that led to a Jevon Parrish score before half, highlight plays were the difference in the early lead.

“Our offensive staff does a great job,” added McCartney. “We’ve been looking for answers and we’ve just kept telling everybody ‘We’re due for a big night offensively’ and that’s exactly what happened. Our kids ran their tails off and blocked hard.”

Out of the break, Lawrence returned to the field with fire. Forcing a North punt initially, the Lions responded by getting on the board courtesy of an Angel Garcia handoff. On the ensuing kickoff, the Eagles muffed a fair-catch, allowing Lawrence to recover on the 35-yard line, seemingly back in business to cut the deficit to a single score. But when the Lions weren’t able to move the ball, they put the pigskin right back in the hands of Sanchez, who later flew down the field for a 55-yard touchdown. Olathe North never looked back, cruising to a second victory over the Lions in 2017.

“This game isn’t indicative of what our kids went through,” finished Wedd. “I mean, they were picked to finish ninth in the conference and ended up 5-5 and won some big games. “

“Anything I can do for them, whether it’s tomorrow or 20-years from now,” Wedd continued. “I’ll be there for them.”

The loss is especially crushing for the visitors. Yes, the hopes for a state championship are over, but so too is the career of the program’s long time leader Wedd who will retire from the sidelines come next fall.

“You know,” Wedd said, fighting back his emotions. “You’re blessed when you’re working with the best kids in the state of Kansas, at the greatest high school, and your wife and family allow you to live your dream it’s pretty special.”

For North, they now advance in the 6A East bracket to face off with a familiar foe at this time of year, the Blue Valley Tigers. Coming off a 38-21 win versus Olathe South, the EKL power presents an exciting match-up for McCartney and an opponent the coach knows will bring a physical test.

“We’ve played them a lot in the playoffs,” finished McCartney. “So, we know each other well. They’re good friends and good rivals. We know it’s going to be a tough match-up.”