Prep Grid Preview: 'Hounds, Orrick clash in major I-70 showdown
SWEET SPRINGS -- When the season began, few -- if any -- veteran observers of I-70 Conference football reckoned that Friday's Orrick-Sweet Springs contest would have any significant implications in the title race.
As it is, the winner will be in first place as the lone undefeated team in league play.
That's nothing new for the visiting Bearcats (2-1, 2-0 I-70) , who have been a contender in four of head coach Pat Richard's five years -- winning the championship in 2002 and placing second to Santa Fe the past two seasons.
However, for the young Greyhounds, it's a heady experience after last year's 1-9 campaign. This is the first time since Sweet Springs won the title in '01 that they have played in such a big game, or so it would seem.
"We treat any game like it's a 'big game,'" remarked first-year head coach Andy Obermann. "To us, we've been in a big game every week."
Certainly, the 'Hounds (3-0, 3-0) got a "big" win last week by knocking off the defending champion Chiefs by a convincing 41-16 margin.
"Just beating Santa Fe, with the history and tradition they have, is a big deal," Obermann admitted. "They were excited about it. It really picked them up."
There was a price to pay for victory, though. Sweet Springs lost the services of junior quarterback Andrew Kueker -- which Obermann conceded "takes away a big arm and leadership" -- for the next couple of weeks with a foot injury. However, Obermann has confidence in Kueker's replacement: sophomore Travis Hinck.
"He's got a pretty good arm and he does some things Andrew doesn't, like run," Obermann said. "We think he's going to do just fine."
As long as the 'Hounds can keep running the ball like they have, pounding out 785 yards and 11 touchdowns in three games --led by sophomore Ronnie Hunter's 344 yards and six TDs -- losing Kueker for a spell may not hurt. Sweet Springs has also stopped the run -- allowing only 55.7 yards per game, 1.8 yards per carry and one touchdown -- but will be stoutly challenged by the 'Cats and fleet sophomore Taylor Eubank.
"They've got some very good athletes," Obermann noted, pointing to Orrick's combination of size and speed. "They do things pretty simply. They come out and pound the ball and they're very physical."
That's almost a mirror image of the 'Hounds' approach.
"They do things a lot like us," Obermann agreed. "It's going to be a fun game."
Crest Ridge at Santa Fe
ALMA -- Under the circumstances, having lost the first three games and its head coach under suspicious circumstances, one might suspect Santa Fe is reeling.
Not so, insists interim field boss Dave Stuckey. The only serious thing plaguing the Chiefs (0-3, 0-1) right now is inexperience.
"I'm very satisfied with the effort and level of play," Stuckey insisted. "The kids are playing hard and I couldn't ask for more."
"We have to be a smarter football team and stop making mistakes," he added, pointing to a minus-nine turnover ratio. "They're not unexpected, but you can't accept them and be a good team."
Hurting itself is not what Santa Fe's Friday opponent does frequently. Crest Ridge (2-1, 2-1) is a veteran squad -- with nine starters back on both sides of the line, five of whom are seniors in their fourth varsity season -- which possesses good skills and has leadership in senior quarterback Cabe Siegfried.
"They're solid fundamentally and fast," Stuckey observed. Yet, "we're not out-sized, which has been a problem for us."
The Santa Fe club which the Cougars will face will be a lot different from the one which beat them 44-6 a year ago, not only in personnel, but in style. The Chiefs have gone to the shotgun spread option offense popularized by coach Urban Meyer at Utah, becoming so prevalent that Marshall has seen it from every opponent thus far this year.
The rapid development of sophomore Kenzie Thorp, in his first season at quarterback, makes it a viable system for Santa Fe. Thorp has completed 50 percent of his passes for 454 yards, including 227 yards and a touchdown last week at Sweet Springs. Stuckey is hoping it's a favorable approach for what Crest Ridge does defensively.
"They're going to pressure you and make you make mistakes," he explained. "If we can exploit that and take advantage of those match-ups, we can get the ball downfield."
The Chiefs are at the stage now that, even if they don't win, they need to get some positive things going.
"It gets more and more critical," Stuckey conceded. "Putting together a game without mistakes, win or lose, would go a long, long way.
"We've got to see some improvement," he declared.