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Eye on the IL: Toriano Porter 11/10

Nearly a half century has passed since a team from the Interscholastic League has won a Missouri state championship in football. The now-shuttered Southwest High School, led by legendary coach William "Bill" Robinson, shared a Class 4A title in 1972 with Hazelwood High, according to MSHSAA records. Robinson was later inducted into the Missouri Coaches Hall of Fame.

Could Lincoln College Prep end the IL's drought after five decades? I knew better than to pose such a question to Lincoln head coach William Lowe.

The Blue Tigers have never won a football state championship, Lowe said. Ever. And that was about all I was able to get out of a coach who is laser focused on building a winning program in Kansas City proper. Lowe has led the team to two undefeated regular seasons the last three years. He sees the big picture, but is dedicated to the daily tasks it takes to win.

Through 10 weeks, it is obvious the approach has paid off. The Blue Tigers' preseason practices were held off-campus and away from the comfort of the school's famed blue turf field. Building politics restricted access to indoor workout facilities. Through it all, Lowe has refused to complain and the Blue Tigers have followed suit.

"Our goals before the season were to challenge ourselves each week, prove that we are a good team because we believed it and just focus on winning each week," Lowe told me recently.

The one-game-at-a-time coach's speech was expected. A team that has given up a shade over 11 points per game while averaging 42.6 points features explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball. Surely, Lincoln is in contention to make a run at the top prize, right? Not so fast, Lowe said.

The Blue Tigers featured at least four Division I recruits last year and appeared destined for bigger things. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of cohesiveness befell Lincoln, who was bounced in district play by Grandview and finished a rather disappointing 7-3 after an 11-1 campaign in 2019.

Lincoln, 10-0 this season, and seeded No. 1 in Missouri Class 4 District 7, rolled Harrisonville last week to open postseason play. The Blue Tigers advanced to the district championship game with the 41-14 win. No. 2 seed Nevada, which needed three overtimes to topple Bolivar last Friday, will visit Lincoln this Friday. The Tigers, 9-2, aren't to be overlooked.

"I love this team and how they have such a hardworking, team-first attitude," Lowe said. Before the season, the outside expectations probably weren’t as high as the years past and our kids used that for motivation. The thing about the post-season though is that it’s a new season. Everyone is 0-0. It’s win or go home."

Lowe took over the program in 2017. After setting the expectations in Year 1, all the Blue Tigers have done since is win. Lincoln Prep is 28-4 in its last 32 games, an astounding feat for a team in a league not known for gridiron success.

It's been almost 50 years since an IL team last claimed a state championship. Lincoln could change that. But the road to state won't be easy. The Blue Tigers will be challenged every step of the way.