As I mentioned in my column two weeks ago, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to cover three games this season that have been decided on two-point conversions in the final minute. After taking an early look at the Class 4A, 5A and 6A east sub-state matchups on the Kansas side, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if all three of them also end up coming down to the wire. Here’s a quick breakdown of what should be three great games on Friday.
No. 1 Olathe North (9-1) vs. No. 6 Blue Valley North (6-2)
This matchup features one the best defenses I’ve seen this year in Olathe North and one of the best offenses I’ve seen in Blue Valley North. Olathe North has only allowed 11 points per game and forced five turnovers in its 28-21 sectional win over Blue Valley.
The trio of quarterback Noah Palmer and running backs Jacob Parrish and Aquantez Love are all averaging more the 6 yards per attempt. What’s more, they’re all playing both ways and are only juniors.
Speaking of impressive defense, Blue Valley North holding Shawnee Mission Northwest’s high-flying offense to six points last week was one of the main things that caught my eye from sectional showdown scores statewide. The Mustangs haven’t had much of a problem putting up points this season with Henry Martin spreading the ball around to his receiving corps that has been headlined by Mekhi Miller and Cole Stratton.
This feels like a game that will end up in the low 20s and with how evenly matched the Eagles and Mustangs are, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a big special teams’ play be the difference.
No. 3 Mill Valley (8-2) vs. No. 4 St. Thomas Aquinas (7-3)
De Soto came very close to changing the familiar script, but Mill Valley and Aquinas will be meeting once again with a trip to the state championship game up for grabs. The Jaguars and Saints have met in the playoffs every year since 2015 with four of those games being played in the sub-state round.
The Jaguars and Saints didn’t have their cleanest games in their respective sectional matchups. Mill Valley turned it over five times in its 16-13 win over De Soto, while Aquinas coughed it up six times in its 32-7 victory against Blue Valley Southwest.
This will be a really fun matchup to watch in the trenches. For Mill Valley, Ethan Kremer has anchored the defensive line with 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. For Aquinas, Sa’o Siavi’i is coming off of a very impressive three-sack performance against BV Southwest.
Both defenses will have their hands full in this one but are both very capable of rising to the challenge. Tank Young (220 yards and three touchdowns against BVSW) and Sean Carroll (188 yards and one touchdown) is as good of a one-two punch as it gets in the state. Mill Valley has shown some good offensive balance with Cooper Marsh’s dual threat ability. The Jaguars have a dynamic running back of their own in Quin Wittenauer and Jacob Hartman has done it all for Mill Valley this year with more than 1,000 total yards and 13 touchdowns (eight receiving and five rushing).
Last year’s 5A semifinal was an overtime thriller with Mill Valley coming out on top 34-31. This one might need more than 48 minutes to be decided as well.
No. 9 St. James (6-4) vs. No. 10 Bishop Miege (5-4)
I’ve always been a firm believer that in order to be the champ, you’ve got to beat the champ, and that certainly applies here. Bishop Miege has claimed seven straight 4A crowns and even though the Stags have struggled more this season than in years past, they’ve still shown in the playoffs that the road to a state title goes through them. While the Stags have had a tough time stopping the run for much of the season, they’re buckling down when it matters most in the playoffs. Limiting Tonganoxie’s Tyler Bowden to 25 carries and 104 yards was no easy feat in the Stags’ 30-7 win last week over the Chieftains.
Meanwhile, St. James has already made school history this season by winning its first ever sectional championship. After being shut out by Aquinas in Week 1, the Thunder’s offense has been rolling ever sense by scoring 28 points or more in each game. St. James put up a season-high 56 points last week in a 56-35 win over Basehor-Linwood. Dakota Burritt threw for 270 yards and four touchdowns and added 125 rushing yards and a score on the ground. Tyler Claiborne hauled in five catches for a whopping 151 yards and three touchdowns and La’James White rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
The Stags have a star of their own under center in Timothy Dorsey. The Miege quarterback threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 49 yards and another score against Tongie. Dorsey’s big-play threats Rohan Putz (six catches for 109 yards and a touchdown) and Mack Moeller (five catches for 82 yards) added to their long highlight reels.
Miege won the regular season matchup against St. James, 38-28. I expect this one to be another shootout as well with deciding who gets to move on to the 4A title game in Hutchinson.