Once more unto the breach
By Nick McCabe PrepsKC Staff Writer
Gardner-Edgerton and Blue Valley squared off on the football field the final week of the regular season in a highly anticipated matchup for Eastern Kansas League and district supremacy. Both teams were unbeaten and highly ranked. But both had also already clinched berths in the Kansas Class 5A playoffs so the possibility that this huge game was actually just the first of two meetings was on everyone’s mind.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 comes out Friday but fans have to wait until summer for the second movie. No such problem for Kansas City high school football fans as Blue Valley versus Gardner-Edgerton: Part 2 also launches Friday, a mere three weeks to the day after the first contest, this time with a trip to the state championship game on the line.
“Whenever you have only two games in between it’s like having a really long halftime,” chuckled Gardner-Edgerton coach Marvin Diener. “You can make some adjustments. Each group will have some new wrinkles.”
Diener’s Trailblazers won the first meeting 42-21, but the game was tied at 21 just three minutes into the second quarter as the teams traded scoring punches in the first six possessions combined.
“It was looking like a shootout for awhile,” Driskell said. “Then we just started pressing a little bit in the second half.”
“We didn’t do a lot of things differently, but we did get better pressure on the quarterback in the second half,” Diener said of his team’s success shutting down Blue Valley after the opening flurry. “It takes a little while to choose which stunts and stuff work best for us.”
While you could argue the first game meant very little in the grand scheme of things, no such argument exists for Part 2. Friday night’s winner will advance to the 5A state title game to face Bishop Carroll out of Wichita or Hutchinson, winners of six straight state championships.
“This is the most nerve-racking game of any season,” Diener said. “I’ve had a chance to coach in 10 state championship games, but we fell short four times and those have been the toughest losses of my career.”
Both squads made it to the semifinal round a year ago. Gardner-Edgerton won, advancing to the state title game where they lost to Hutch. Blue Valley got to the semi’s in 6A, losing a heartbreaker to eventual champ Olathe North 16-14.
“The fact Blue valley was in this game a year ago and didn’t move on makes them even more dangerous,” said Diener. “A lot of these kids played in that game and got stopped one step short. On the other hand, our kids have been very motivated to get back to the state championship and get a chance to win that game this year.”
Driskell also thinks the experience his squad got in the semifinals last season will be a boost in the Tigers’ quest to play for the state title this year.
“It’s a luxury we have at Blue Valley,” he said. “We’ve had success over the years, so the players understand what’s on the line. It helps out.”
Blue Valley’s main task in the rematch is somehow slowing the potent rushing attack of the Trailblazers. Quarterback Bubba Starling and fullback Brett Jensen combined to run for 440 yards in the first meeting.
“They’re both tremendous talents,” Driskell said. “They get a lot of accolades and deservingly so. But their guys up front get off the football really well.”
On the season, Starling has run for over 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. Jensen has 1,400 yards and 23 touchdowns and is averaging 172 yards per game since tailback Ryan Weber has been out with an ankle injury the last three games. The Gardner-Edgerton offense has averaged 53 points per game and has punted just nine times all year.
“Offensively we’ve been very efficient,” Diener said. “We’ve scored almost every possession. And we haven’t given opponents very many breaks by turning the ball over.”
While Diener does not shy away from his team’s role as the favorite, he thinks Blue Valley is a very dangerous opponent that has not gotten the respect they deserve for a great season.
“They are the Rodney Dangerfield of all time in high school football,” Diener said emphatically. “They somehow flew under the radar all season and they were just whipping people.”
The Tigers have scored 43 points per game as junior quarterback Kyle Zimmerman has thrown for over 2,000 yards and junior running back Justin Fulks has over 1,600 yards rushing. A stingy defense has allowed just 16 points per game.
“It’s been a tremendous year,” Driskell said. “We have 32 seniors and the coaching staff is intact. It’s an expectation at Blue Valley to play for the state title every year and that’s what we’re still striving for.”
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