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Photo Credit: Ryan Wallace/PrepsKC

Swarmed with an abundance of joyful hugs, an awarded game ball from fellow staff member Ryan Copp in tow, Blue Valley West head coach Josh Koerkenmeier took a minute to catch his breath after a 20-17 victory over Blue Valley Southwest on Thursday night.

“Everyone keeps telling me, ‘You’ll remember this forever’,” the first-year head coach exclaimed. “In a game like this that went back and forth, I definitely believe what they say.”

It truly was a memorable evening of firsts at the Blue Valley District Activities Center.

The first game of the 2016 season in the Sunflower State, Koerkenmeier’s debut leading the Jaguars couldn’t have kicked off with a better start. On the game’s second play, first-time varsity running back Adam Davis took the handoff at his own 20-yard line and raced past his teammates down the sideline for the first of what would become three touchdowns in the contest.

“He’s a special player,” the junior’s coach said after the win. “As a sophomore last year, we were salivating to let him run the ball. We have a lot of talented running backs around him too though, and they were able to keep him fresh at times, but he’s a special player. When you’ve got to have it, No. 21 is the guy you want to have it.”

However, the score would be lone points West was able to collect on the scoreboard heading into halftime, as the opposing Timberwolves physical style bullied the jittery home squad to a 10-7 lead courtesy of receptions from senior Cooper Ast and the rushing of senior Jack Sailer.

“I felt like we were more physical in the first half,” admitted Southwest head coach Anthony Orrick afterwards. “We came out the second half and it seemed like we lost some of that physicality.”

“For the most part, the defense played pretty well all night. It was just a few key mistakes that hurt us in the end where we didn’t take advantage of opportunities.”

Midway through the third quarter, with the visitors from Southwest still ahead by three, both squads desperately tried to grasp ahold of a momentum-building highlight to seize confidence. Calling in a play to his junior signal caller Jack Michelson, Koerkenmeier believes that moment came on a clutch, 55-yard vertical heave.

“We talked to our guys about being patient and that when adversity hits, it’s not the end of the world,” said the head coach of his roster, littered with non-senior playmakers. “Recover and go make the next play.”

“We came out of halftime and Keaton Goodale had a huge catch that flipped the field for us and we went down and scored after that. I think that’s really the mark of a great team - understanding and being able to execute those little things.”

The same could not be said for the Timberwolves, who throttled West in the finale of 2015, shutting out the Jags 21-0. This time around, it was Southwest who came apart at the seams, handing the Jaguar defense two critical fumbles in the second half that led to scores.

“It’s just finishing plays,” says Orrick, who once coached Koerkenmeier as an assistant at Blue Valley High School. “The things were there, we just didn’t execute. We need to go back, clean everything up, and get it ironed out. Once we do that, we’ll be okay.”

In the case of Blue Valley West, the televised game on Time Warner Sports Channel could prove to propel a hungry group eager to please a new regime.

“I’ve been at West ever since I was little, so I’ve known these coaches growing up,” says Davis, who also made his presence felt at his usual home as a linebacker. “It’s really amazing to still be with all these coaches from when I was little, like Coach Koerk, working his way up. I love winning it for him because he really wants it.”

A program that suffered its worst regular season since 2011 last year, recording just two victories in Scott Wright’s final fall at the helm, the Jaguars now look ahead to EKL power and fellow rival Blue Valley next week. But, as the new head coach will tell you, to win No. 2 you have to get No. 1 first and that’s exactly what Blue Valley West accomplished on Thursday.

“It’s a big, big start for our program,” finished the Jaguars’ leader. “This program has had a lot of success but last year we didn’t, so our kids were very excited to go out and get this win tonight.”

“Like I told them after the game though, this isn’t the end. This is just the beginning of what we want to accomplish.”