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Move the chains: Chris Duderstadt 9/7Photo Credit: Chris Duderstadt

From 2016 through 2018, I had the pleasure of covering all Mill Valley and DeSoto High School sports as a sports reporter for the Shawnee Dispatch. In the fall of 2019, PrepsKC gave me another chance to cover another epic USD 232 showdown when the Jaguars and Wildcats met in sectional round of the Class 5A football playoffs.

Mill Valley edged DeSoto, 18-7, to end the Wildcats’ hopes of an undefeated season and then went on to win its third state championship in five years. If you would’ve told me last fall that the Jaguars and Wildcats would meet again in the 2020 playoffs, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised (and that could very well still happen), but a regular season matchup wasn’t originally in the cards with the USD 232 schools being in different leagues.

Obviously I wish a pandemic wasn’t what led to Mill Valley and DeSoto’s impromptu Week 2 clash that’s scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at DHS, but in these unprecedented times, it’s nice for the USD 232 community and high school football fans across Kansas to have such a big matchup to look forward to.

While covering DeSoto’s 42-34 Week 1 victory over Free State, I was impressed, but not surprised with how senior quarterback Jackson Miller had the Wildcats’ flexbone offense in midseason form. Miller knows the offense like the back of his hand as a third-year starter at DHS and from running it on his childhood teams. After two fumbles and an interception against Leavenworth in Week 1 of his sophomore campaign, Miller has only turned the ball over three times (all fumbles, no interceptions) in the last 11 games. That recipe has helped the Wildcats to a 29-6 record since the start of 2018.

The Wildcats were looking forward to a chance at avenging the 2019 sectional loss to the Jaguars after Friday’s win over the Firebirds, but they know it won’t be easy. As I was sitting in the stands for the Free State/DeSoto matchup (yes, it was weird to not be in the press box or the sidelines due to COVID-19 restrictions), I overheard a number of socially-distanced fans talking about how Mill Valley was rolling to a 45-14 victory over Derby, which has won five of the last seven 6A state titles.

I, too, had to check the PrepsKC scoreboard a few times to get a glimpse of the marquee Mill Valley/Derby matchup that my fellow former Shawnee Dispatch sports reporter-turned PrepsKC correspondent Mike Lavieri was covering. I saw Derby’s dominant 63-26 win over Olathe North first-hand last fall as the Panthers broke several Kansas 6A state championship records, so for Mill Valley’s defense to only allow Derby to score 14 points is quite a season-opening statement.

One game that also stuck out to me last season was Mill Valley’s 42-35 loss to Bishop Miege. The Stags led 35-10 after a touchdown drive to open the second half, and it appeared that Miege would win handily. Mill Valley quarterback Cooper Marsh had other thoughts, though, as he led the Jaguars to 25 unanswered points. Former Miege star, now Minnesota freshman Daniel Jackson sealed the victory for the Stags with an 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the final minute, but Mill Valley coach Joel Applebee was still thrilled to see Marsh grow up before his eyes.

Marsh and Miller are both dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in completely different offensive systems. That being said, DeSoto defensive coordinator Joel Thaemert and Mill Valley defensive coordinator Drew Hudgins have excellent track records of creating some tough defensive schemes (hence the 18-7 score in the 2019 sectional showdown). Friday should be another fun one between the Jaguars and Wildcats.