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Photo Credit: Chris Duderstadt

While there have certainly been a few bumps in the road, we’ve reached the eighth and final week of the regular season for Kansas high school football. I’ve been fortunate to cover two postseason-caliber matchups in the last three weeks with Shawnee Mission Northwest vs. St. Thomas Aquinas and Olathe North vs. Lawrence High both coming down to 2-point conversion attempts in the final minute to decide the game.

Between those two games, I also got to see three very deserving Simone Award candidates in Shawnee Mission Northwest quarterback Ty Black, St. Thomas Aquinas running back Tank Young and Lawrence High running back Devin Neal. All three of those players have the talent to carry their teams to a state title and also have very strong supporting casts.

I was also fortunate to cover a few of Olathe North’s playoff games last year during the Eagles’ run to the 6A title game and got to see some amazing performances from 2019 Simone Award winner Arland Bruce IV. When Bruce IV transferred to Ankeny High School in August with a Kansas high school football season being in doubt due to COVID-19, it was obviously a big blow for the Eagles.

With Ankeny having a bye in the first round of Iowa’s state playoffs on Friday, Bruce IV was in attendance to see the Eagles take on Lawrence High. Although his former team came up just short of erasing a 14-point fourth quarter deficit in a 21-20 loss to the Lions, Bruce IV and the other Eagles fans had a lot to cheer about with how Bruce IV’s successor Noah Palmer played under center. Palmer caught my eye last year as a defensive back who simply had a nose for the football. In his sophomore campaign, he had 118 tackles (73 solo), three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

I was curious to see how Palmer and the Eagles would look offensively against a stellar Lawrence High defense. Penalties plagued the Eagles on their first few drives, but Palmer gave them a spark offensively and defensively to get them rolling. Palmer came up with his third interception of the season in the second quarter and later guided threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Braden Cain just before halftime to cut the Lions’ lead to 14-7.

With several players such as Palmer playing both ways and wanting to keep Neal and the Lions’ high-flying offense off the field, it was clear that the Eagles game plan was to eat up the clock with their run game that was highlighted by Palmer, Aquantez Love and Jacob Parrish. The Olathe North rushing attack started to wear down the Lions in the second half, but my biggest takeaway was how poised Palmer was in long third and fourth down situations. After only attempting 24 passes in the Eagles’ first give games, Palmer completed 8 of 11 passes for 137 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against the Lions. Parrish was Palmer’s top target was Parrish, who hauled in four catches for 78 yards. Palmer connected with Laython Patillo for a 22-yard touchdown strike with 32 seconds to play before he was stopped just short of the goal line by Cole Mondi on a 2-point conversion attempt.

Olathe North coach Chris McCartney claimed after the game that he didn’t think anyone gave the Eagles a chance against the Lions despite both teams coming in 5-0. After going down to the wire on the road against a battle-tested Lawrence High squad, I don’t think anyone will be sleeping on the Eagles going forward. Palmer’s passing efficiency paired with a strong rushing attack and a stingy defense that’s only allowing just over 10 points per game will make the Eagles an extremely tough out in the playoffs.