Prep Grid Preview/Slate wiped clean with start of districts
SWEET SPRINGS -- Once again, the Sweet Springs football team is looking for a quarterback.
"I don't know," responded Greyhounds head coach Tim Smith when asked who he'd turn to as the fourth player to put under center this season. "Can you take a snap?"
With junior Travis Hinck and sophomore Blake Vogelsmeier now unavailable, following on the heels of a season-ending injury to junior No.1 starter Chris Dickinson, Sweet Springs begins Class 1, District 8 play Friday against visiting I-70 Conference neighbor Concordia with a huge hole in the line-up -- especially for a spread-option offense which requires a savvy on-field manager.
"We had to decide what to do, stay with the spread or go to a wishbone," Smith admitted.
The 'Hounds (4-3, 3-2 I-70) will stick with their system and turn to Mr. Dependable, junior James Deweese, to fill the role.
"James is smart enough and athletic enough to run the offense," Smith declared. The team's leading rusher with 680 yards and five touchdowns, Deweese "gives you the Chris Dickinson dimension back there."
Fortunately, Sweet Springs still has junior Ronnie Hunter in the backfield and can move sophomore Jake Navarro, a former running back, from the offensive line.
That settled, the attention returns to the Orioles (4-3, 3-2) -- who have enjoyed a revival under new coach John Cox following a 1-8 campaign last year. With Concordia, the key is less generating offense -- its defense has yielded an average of 30.4 points per game this season -- than stopping speedy junior quarterback Joey White.
"The guy who makes them go is White. He's a good runner and a good passer," Smith said. "If we can slow him down a little bit, we have a chance."
Despite White's talent, though, Smith knows "you can't really key on just one kid," since four runners gained over 100 yards last week during a 48-33 win over Windsor.
This district is shaping up as a very difficult one, with all four teams currently holding winning records -- Tipton, which has reached the playoffs five straight year, being the favorite. Hence, "this game is huge for our season in several different ways," according to Smith.
"It would guarantee at least a .500 season, we'd finish in the upper half of the conference and 1-0 in district," he listed. "And it's our rival. Any time you can beat your rival, it's kind of fun."
Wentworth Military at Santa Fe
ALMA -- One could hear a collective sigh of relief emanating this week from Alma.
Junior quarterback Kenzie Thorp, so vital to Santa Fe's spread option attack, pronounced himself fit and ready to go. That was a concern after he left the game in the first half of last week's 34-0 I-70 Conference loss to St. Paul, aggravating an ankle injured on the second snap of the season and limiting his mobility for several weeks thereafter.
"He says it feels better than at any time since the first week," announced Chiefs head coach David Stuckey. "We're pretty pumped about that."
Santa Fe has another quarterback concern this week: the talent of freshman Christian Lewis-Smith, who has directed Wentworth Military Academy to three straight wins upon becoming eligible following the club's 0-4 start.
"He's the best athlete in Class 1, hands down," Stuckey stated without equivocation. "I don't care what anybody else thinks."
Lewis-Smith has the type of speed seldom seen in these parts outside of Marshall, and he put it on full display last week during the Red Dragons' 52-28 victory over a solid Drexel program. The Bobcats gave Wentworth (3-4), which has only a handful of players with previous football experience, some trouble with their line play and Stuckey is hoping to exploit a possible advantage there -- turning a 7-on-7 game into an 11-on-11 one.
"We're going to try to put a lot of pressure on him before he gets going," Stuckey explained. "Drexel couldn't handle him when they let him get to full speed. He ran circles around them."
The Dragons have also been fortunate in the turnover department, getting five takeaways last week and seven two games earlier during a 26-22 win at Slater. "The key for us is not turning the ball over," noted Stuckey, who watched his team give it away five times a week ago.
The Chiefs (2-5) had been to the playoffs 10 years in a row until last season, and if they stand a chance of returning there in a rugged Class 1, District 13 which includes powerhouses Orrick and Wellington-Napoleon winning the opener is crucial.
"In the Missouri system, it's very, very critical to win that first one," Stuckey said. "When you do the math in district play, teams which lose the first game rarely come out at all."
Westran at Slater
SLATER -- If any team is glad for the fresh start which the district season provides, it's Slater.
Or maybe Westran.
Both Lewis and Clark Conference squads begin the Class 1, District 14 schedule needing a win, although the Hornets (1-6, 0-2 L&C) have at least tasted victory -- beating South Callaway two weeks ago, 46-14, before being pummeled 60-0 by Marceline.
"It's a good start to the district season for us," remarked Wildcats head coach Tom Doherty. "Not that any opponent is going to be easy."
In fact, nearly every foe has had a good time against the battered Purple gang, which has seen its ranks depleted since even before the season began.
"Being as we're down six linemen, we are in very good shape," Doherty said. "And very, very positive."
That's a tribute to the leadership shown by the likes of junior Aric Falls, an all-conference defensive back who has filled any role asked and bucked up his younger teammates. However, there's only so much he can do.
"We have to do away with the mistakes we've been beating ourselves with," Doherty said, like the 10 fumbles -- five lost -- Slater (0-7, 0-2) committed last week during a 42-0 loss at Braymer. That's a task which will face the 'Cats' third quarterback of the season as freshman Cody Skinner makes his first start.
"If we can get our running game going and let him get into the flow of the offense, it will help him and get everybody into the right frame of mind," Doherty asserted.
Yet, Slater has been remarkably resilient throughout a difficult campaign. Recently the 'Cats have broken their huddles with the mantra of "Attitude!" This week, it's been altered slightly to "Positive attitude!"
"For everything they've been through, our practices this week have been the best we've ever had," Doherty claimed. "I've had more fun coaching this team than any I can recall."