Eudora ready to make history

Nick Smith/PrepsKC

By Stephen Bubalo PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: November 25, 2011 - 11:51 PM

Eudora and Rose Hill are proof state rankings don’t mean a thing when it comes to playoff football.
Despite the fact that neither team cracked the Kansas 4A top 5 in the final regular season poll – Rose Hill did receive some votes – the two teams will square off in the state championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Salina Central High School Stadium.
But both teams have their signature playoff wins over teams that were getting respect in the rankings – Eudora over previously unbeaten and fourth-ranked Basehor-Linwood, 28-21, and Rose Hill beating top-ranked Topeka Hayden, 40-29.
“Everyone was saying Basehor-Linwood was the team to beat and then we beat them,” Eudora head coach Gregg Webb said. “I think people look at our scores, and they’re close and not real high scoring, so people don’t think we’re all that good.”
That has been the case during this memorable playoff run. Maybe not necessarily teams didn’t think the Cardinals were that good, but Webb’s team has the sense that they’ve been flying under the radar a bit.
“Teams have underestimated us. We’ve proven we can play,” running back Chris Pyle said.
The state title game will be the first in program history for the Cardinals, but not for Webb.
As the head coach for Claflin, Webb was at the helm for nine state title games and five wins, and he’s hoping some of that experience will come in handy as the team prepares this week.
“I told them that state is weird,” Webb said. “It’s a 1 p.m. game and after a game like (last Friday’s semifinal win over Paola) in that environment, on a Friday night, it’ll be weird. It’s not as intimate a setting.
“I hope my experience will get them ready.”
Trying to figure out a key to the game would be futile, but if there’s one thing coaches always point to, it’s one always-voiced cliché – defense wins championships.
And there will be two good defenses on display Saturday, as both teams come in allowing just a shade less than 11 points per contest.
Webb admits he’s an offensive-minded coach, but he’s been allowed to be this season with an experienced defense that he trusts.
“With this defensive group we just throw them out there. We let them go,” Webb said. “They’re a senior-oriented group and they’ll figure it out. They listen and believe in each other.”
And they’ll be tested Saturday by an offense that comes in averaging 43 points a game. Since an opening-week 18-10 loss to Buhler, there have only been three games where the Rockets have been held under 40.
Rose Hill quarterback Derrick Decker and tailback Eastin Dockers will be the focus of the Cardinals attention Saturday. The duo combined for 164 yards rushing against Topeka Hayden. Decker also threw for 103 yards, including a 55-yarder to Dockers for a score.
And while Webb was all smiles after his team’s semifinal win over Paola, there was an area of his team he saw that needs to be better Saturday and that’s his offense.
Eudora was really only able to put together two productive drives in the win, and while both ended with touchdowns, Webb knows that may not be enough against Rose Hill.
“We have to be able to move the ball better than we did (last Friday),” he said. “I’d like to think we can score more.”
There are plenty of similarities between these two teams as they prepare to square off in the season’s biggest game. Both are 12-1. Both are riding long winning streaks (12 for Rose Hill, 11 for Eudora). And both entered the playoffs most likely as underdogs to get this far.
Webb still feels like that’s the case for his team.
“We’ll be the underdog again,” he said. “We don’t mind that.”
The Cardinals have come this far. Why not shock everybody one more time?
“We’re not done. We have one more to play,” Pyle said. “We have one more to win.”