Uncharted Territory

By Steve Bubalo PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: November 18, 2017 - 12:28 AM

Back in 2014, Andy Sims took over the head coaching duties at Blue Valley North and inherited a team that went 1-26 in the previous three seasons combined. In his first season, they struggled to a 2-7 mark, but hope was on the horizon.

Now, three years later, that group of seniors who were freshmen during Sims’ first year are doing something nobody has done in the history of the Blue Valley North program - they’re playing for a Class 6A state title next week.

In a wild game, the Mustangs knocked off rival Blue Valley 44-37 in double overtime Friday night to advance to the title game.

“We gotta get ready for either Derby or Wichita Northwest,” Sims said as he laughed, asked what went through his mind when the Mustangs sealed the victory. “That was the first thing I thought of.”

Spoken like a true coach.

These two rivals have now played two of the most thrilling games in the area this season. The first was a comeback win for the Tigers, 34-33, and in this one they jumped out to a 24-14 lead but eventually needed a Jackson Likens 23-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 30-all, sending it to overtime.

From there, the Mustangs put the ball in the hands of their star player, quarterback Graham Mertz.

With the ball being spotted on the 10-yard line for overtime rules, the Tigers scored first on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Luke Bernard to Owen Olson to go up 37-30.

That’s when Mertz and the Mustang offensive line went to work. The Wisconsin commit took the snap and rumbled 10 yards on the first play for a score. Just like that, it was 37-all. North got the ball first in the second overtime and seeing what had worked so well on the first drive, Mertz ran the ball again three straight times, the last from 1-yard out for a 44-37 lead.

Mertz liked having the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

“Oh yeah,” he said with a smile. “Whatever I can do to win a game.”

Added Sims, “We’re a passing team but that doesn’t mean we can’t run. There’s nothing better than a quarterback run game down on the goal line.”

The Blue Valley offense went backwards on its final possession, and on fourth-and-17 Bernard’s pass into the end zone fell incomplete.

“It was a barnburner,” Blue Valley head coach Allen Terrell said. “It was two great football teams, two rivals. That’s how 6A football should be. …We made some mistakes in the second half. In a game like this whoever makes the fewest mistakes is going to end up happy. That was them tonight.”

By the looks of the first half it looked like the Tigers would be impossible to slow down. They led 27-21 at the half and were scoring on short drives with big plays. But that changed in the second half, as the Mustang defense adjusted and didn’t allow a point until the late field goal to tie the game.

“We knew that if we couldn’t stop them we were going to lose,” said cornerback Calvin Masters, who had a key interception in the fourth quarter. “We just played smarter. We knew our roles. We switched some things up in some areas and we had that swagger.”

The loss ended Terrell’s first season at the helm, as he had the tall task of taking over after the heartbreaking death of head coach Eric Driskell. He inherited an inexperienced group in what was a difficult season, but guided them to an 8-4 mark.

“We had one kid from this team who was on the field last year,” Terrell said. “We met after coach passed away and they said they weren’t going to let any of it be an excuse. We got our butts kicked by (Bishop) Miege in Week 1, and they just got better. They willed and worked their way to here.”

For the Mustangs, they appear to be hitting their stride at the right time, rattling off five straight wins. They will look to make that six straight against Derby next Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. at Welch Stadium on the campus of Emporia State. It’s a game Mertz and his teammates envisioned they would be playing in since the beginning of the season.

“That was my plan from the start,” Mertz said. “We all sat down before the season and our goal was state champs. It’s time to finish that goal.”