Prep Grid Preview Week 9: 'Hounds have tough task at No. 2 Tipton

Thursday, October 23, 2008
The 'Cats are counting on the continued hard-nosed running of senior Jeremy Fizer, who has rushed for 663 yards and six touchdowns this season. (Chris Allen/Democrat-News)

SWEET SPRINGS -- The Sweet Springs football team began the season against defending state champion Orrick, then and now the top-ranked Class 1 team in the state.

On Friday, the Greyhounds will again be on the road against a program which is only a tiny step down -- No. 2 Tipton having reached the semifinal round a year ago with 12 straight wins before being defeated by Thayer, who lost to the Bearcats in the Show-Me Bowl.

"Thanks for reminding me," deadpanned head coach Tim Smith, whose Sweet Springs team has been plagued by having MSHSAA assign it to the same district as the perennial powerhouse for seven of the last nine years. "That's nice of them."

Cardinals head coach Tony Braby, who led the Silver and Gold to the state title game in 1985 -- losing a 13-12 decision to Rock Port in Busch Stadium -- has won the last five meetings since dropping the decisive game of the 2000 district campaign.

"They're always big, they're always quick, run the same offense, the same defense," Smith noted about Tipton's continued success.

The Cardinals (8-0, 1-0 District 8) are averaging 40.3 points per game with the modified run-and-shoot approach adviser Ed Russell used while the offensive coordinator at Missouri Valley College in the late '90s -- with one former Viking, all-conference offensive lineman Nathan Bestgen, now on Braby's staff.

"They're going to come at you two ways: with the fly-sweep -- their bread and butter -- getting you to think outside, then they hit you inside with their quick traps," Smith explained the formula to Tipton's continued success. "It's pretty much pick your poison with them."

Junior Keil Allison has back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Cardinals, running behind a large line which features 6-foot-4, 280-pound senior tackle Robert Sanders, and is also an outstanding linebacker.

The 'Hounds were whipped in last year's meeting, 47-0, but other than attacking the edges more often probably will continue to rely on their potent ground game.

"We're going to have to if we have any chance of winning," Smith said. "We'll have to grind it out and keep their offense off the field.

"But we're going to have to do some things to keep them off-balance," he added. "They're too good to run up the middle on."

The good news about this year's clash with the Cardinals for Sweet Springs (5-3, 1-0) is that a loss won't end its playoff aspirations -- since the top two teams in each four-school district advances. With winless Sacred Heart on the 'Hounds' schedule in the regular season finale, this is not a do-or-die proposition.

"We are still focused, but know that if we don't beat [Tipton] now we may have a shot again in a couple of weeks," Smith said. "If we can do some things against them and make a game of it, we may take away a lot of confidence."

FAYETTE -- For the Slater Wildcats, the last four weeks has been -- as Shakespeare wrote of King Richard III -- "the winter of our discontent."

During the current losing streak, the Purple has shown the ability to line up against all opponents, but finds its effort hampered by turnovers, untimely penalties and poor tackling.

"We know we can hang with any team we've played," declared Slater head coach Chris Ferri. "We've been telling the kids that since the Concordia game."

Now the 'Cats have to travel to Lewis and Clark Conference rival Fayette, which was ranked seventh in the state until a shocking 27-16 loss at Salisbury last week, for a contest which will determine which team will likely drop out of the Class 1, District 8 race.

Despite the setback, the Falcons (6-2, 2-1 L&C, 0-1 District 8) are very dangerous, especially with a spread offense which allows senior Ryan Sherman to display his range of talent.

Through seven games, Sherman had run for 625 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 25 passes for eight more scores. Add in three more TDs on punt and kickoff returns and another on an interception, and one can easily understand the challenge Slater faces.

"They find different ways to get the ball in Sherman's hands," Ferri said. "They really utilize their speed well."

Ferri is still moving people around on defense, and hopes he has hit upon "the right combination" to deal with Fayette.

The Falcons' defense has been good, but not overwhelming, giving up 17.8 points per game. Yet, Slater (3-5, 0-3, 0-1) has been heartened by some of its offensive numbers -- such as the 579 yards they rang up against Concordia and another 415 yards generated during last week's 47-22 loss to Westran, a game in which Ferri counted seven pancake blocks.

"The holes were just enormous," he said. "We just have to finish."

If they don't, finished is what the 'Cats' playoff hopes will be.

ALMA -- After a mid-season stumble, in which it lost three of four game, Concordia appears to be back on track for a showdown with Wellington-Napoleon for the Class 1, District 10 title.

Standing in the Orioles' way is long-time I-70 Conference nemesis Santa Fe, which used to dominate the series -- but is now in the role of underdog.

"They're coming off a couple of big wins, so we have our work cut out for us," admitted Chiefs head coach Andy Frerking.

Following a 21-7 loss to Sweet Springs in Week 4, during which senior quarterback Kevin Sartin went down with what appears to be a season-ending knee injury, Concordia's prospects didn't look especially keen.

However, the Orioles (5-3, 3-2 I-70, 1-0 District 10) have bounced back by relying on the strong running of junior Jordan Murray behind a big offensive line, with sophomore Kent Schuette effectively filling Sartin's shoes.

"He's done a good job stepping in there and doing what it takes to win," Frerking said. "They made some adjustments with some of their people in different roles."

Santa Fe (2-6, 1-4, 0-1) had seen improvement in its offense recently, until last weeks 36-0 loss to Wellington -- in which it managed only 66 net yards rushing.

"We did such a poor job on the offensive line," Frerking said, knowing that Concordia's big defensive front may be as formidable as that of the Tigers. "We just have to shore that up. We haven't blocked that poorly all year."

As intense a rivalry as exists in the I-70, this year the stakes are raised by being in the same district -- with the loser, especially if it's the Chiefs, having an uphill climb to make the playoffs.

"Our kids understand that and it adds to the sense of urgency," Frerking admitted. "These are the games you play for."

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