Prep Grid Preview/'Cats renew L&C rivalry with Fayette
SLATER -- Of all of the available statistics regarding the MSHSAA football playoff system, the one which may be the most revealing is this: of the 129 teams which lost their district openers last year, only one advanced to post-season.
Slater is one of those teams in 2006, although it is in better position than most -- at least in theory -- because it has yet play seventh-ranked Salisbury, favored to claim the district title since it has done so 10 years' running. Of course, given the Wildcats' current predicament, the shot is at best long.
"We have to go with another different starting line-up again," rued Slater head coach Tom Doherty. "At least the kids are going hard, although I wish we weren't making all the mistakes they are."
Miscues, such as a horrendous minus-18 turnover ratio, are to be expected when a club has to make all the adjustment as have the 'Cats this season.
"We've had some of our guys playing their fourth or fifth positions on the same side of the ball," Doherty explained. "With a spread offense, so much goes to timing, and we haven't been able to do that because we've had to juggle the line-up so much."
When the season began, the Purple seemed -- at least on paper -- to be in roughly the same shape as Lewis and Clark Conference rival Fayette, their opponent in Friday's Class 1, District 14 road contest. However, the campaigns could not have developed more dissimilarly.
"Unlike us, they've been able to keep the same people in the same positions and have their rhythm down," Doherty noted.
The Falcons (4-4, 1-2 L&C, 0-1 district), last week's 42-28 loss to Salisbury notwithstanding, have been playing solid football this season. Although not very big up front -- with the notable exception of 6-foot-5, 255-pound senior tackle Joe Strodtman -- they have talented skill positions players, such as junior quarterback Miles Westhues, senior running back Damian Shifflett and sophomore wideout Ryan Sherman.
The 'Cats (0-8, 0-3, 0-1) began the season with the same kind of athleticism -- and even more experience up front -- but the loss of six linemen, such as all-conference senior Dewayne Lewis, and all-state safety and quarterback Marco Falls has forced youngsters into key roles. But at least they have maintained their enthusiasm, even if it takes a little while to get the motors running.
"We'd like to start off the game going hard, rather than wait until we get into the flow of the game to turn it up," Doherty said. "If we can cut our turnovers, keep the game where we are in a position to complete, I think we'll be all right."
Sweet Springs at Tipton
SWEET SPRINGS -- Sweet Springs has been there before.
After a two-year break, the Greyhounds find themselves hooked up again with Tipton -- to where they head Friday -- in Class 1, District 8. That hasn't often been good news, given the Cardinals' three-year run since Sweet Springs last beat them to reach the playoffs in 2000.
"Same ol' Tipton," remarked 'Hounds head coach Tim Smith, who was only a seventh-grader when Cardinals head coach Tony Braby led Sweet Springs to its only Show-Me Bowl in 1985, a 13-12 loss to Rock Port.
If Tipton (7-1, 1-0 district) isn't loaded with the talent equal to that which took it to the state semifinals in '03 -- the last time it played the 'Hounds, winning 55-0 -- then it's still running the modified run-and-shoot offense installed by former Missouri Valley College offensive coordinator Ed Russell, who remains with the program.
"It's been tough to get the first-team varsity defense ready for it," conceded Smith, who only suited up 17 players during last week's 46-20 loss to Concordia. "We show film on it so they can see it for themselves."
Sweet Springs has an entirely different offensive look since the last time it played the Cardinals, although the spread option these days has more spread than option -- junior James Deweese last week becoming the team's fourth quarterback this season, limiting a versatile scheme to one which has not completed a pass in two games.
"We're trying to get him more confidence running the offense and finding things which will work well against their defense," Smith said.
Despite their district-opening loss, the 'Hounds (4-4, 0-1) are not out of contention -- but have to beat Tipton to have a chance.
"It's a one-game season," Smith declared. "If we win this one, we put ourselves back to the top with a chance to do something next week."
Santa Fe at Orrick
ALMA -- Of all the teams needing to bounce back from a first-week district loss, none may have a harder road than Santa Fe.
The Chiefs' 25-8 loss to Wentworth Military last week not only put them in a hole, but to climb out they have to do so against two teams who have spent time in the Class 1 Top 10 this season: No. 3 Orrick on Friday and defending I-70 Conference tri-champion Wellington-Napoleon, coming off a 42-6 loss to the Bearcats, the following week.
"They're big and physical up front, have upperclassmen in key spots and have a lot of speed," Santa Fe head coach David Stuckey concluded upon observing the damage done by players like 300-pound all-state senior tackle Tyler Werle, junior running back Taylor Eubank and senior receiver Brandon Mansell. "A very daunting task, indeed."
Orrick (8-0, 6-0 I-70, 1-0 district) has legitimate designs on a state championship, and took a huge step toward that end by beating the Tigers. The 'Cats, even since Pat Richard took over five years ago, are hard-nosed and powerful.
"They force you to get into the box and stop the off-tackle," Stuckey said. "When you do that, they get you outside with sweeps and counters with their speed."
The Chiefs (2-6, 2-3, 0-1), who were competitive with Orrick during last year's 26-8 loss, have suffered from the plagues of youth this season. Stuckey is hoping to "establish some consistency" down the stretch.
"That's what we haven't done," he explained. "We put together two, three, four good plays in a row, and then commit a mental error when we get close."
Against the Bearcats, any opportunities must be seized for Santa Fe to have a chance.