St. Mary's 'looking forward' to facing No. 1 Chiefs
ALMA -- Forgive defending MSHSAA Class A football champion Santa Fe for being thankful to start the playoffs today in Independence.
It's no slap at sectional opponent St. Mary's, who Chiefs head coach Bill Fox considers a fine team with "a lot of good, big kids." But the Trojans may be considered somewhat of a talisman for Santa Fe, which met them a year ago to begin a string of four post-season victories -- culminating in the first title of its three appearances in the Trans World Dome since '96.
In fact, the top-ranked Chiefs will be playing St. Mary's (5-5) for the fourth time since their current 24-game winning streak began last year. Meeting that often, they should be more familiar with the Trojans than with any of their I-70 Conference foes -- or even as are the NFL Chiefs with the Raiders.
"You play somebody four times, you better be ready for them," Fox said. "You just have to watch out for trickery."
Not only have the Wahoos won those decisions, they "have beaten us pretty good," admitted St. Mary's head coach Dave Corbin -- by combined 124-14 margin, including last season's 33-0 sectional clash at Alma.
"We know exactly what's coming at us," remarked Corbin, in his first season as the field boss after four years as an assistant to Fred Merrell. "There's no guessing about this. It's like, 'Here I come. Stop me.'"
Certainly, taking on tough assignments is nothing new for the Trojans, who went 1-4 in the rugged Show-Me West Conference -- which includes such stalwarts as Grain Valley, Pembroke Hill and Butler.
"We're the little boys," Corbin conceded. "We took a pretty good pounding in there. But when we got to districts, it showed -- we did the pounding."
So knows Wellington-Napoleon and Orrick, which tied for third behind the Chiefs and Sweet Springs in the I-70 Conference. St. Mary's won comfortably over both, routing the Tigers, 51-6, and cruising past the Bearcats, 28-14, for the district crown. But Corbin confessed that sometimes the unrelenting pressure of scheduling hardy opponents takes its toll.
"We're lucky sometimes to make it through alive," he said. "We might be trying to tone this down the next couple of years."
On the other hand, Corbin has a squad which is battle-hardened -- and talented. Junior running back Matt "The Truck" Logan (215 pounds) -- "he's like 'The Bus,' Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, according to Corbin -- has rumbled for over 900 yards and six touchdowns in eight games.
Junior quarterback Graham McGhee has grown steadily into the job, and has a prime target in junior Matt Perkins -- with 33 receptions for more than 600 yards and seven TDs. Perkins was one of the few bright spots during St. Mary's 47-7 loss to the Chiefs on Sept. 28 -- catching five passes for 101 yards, the most allowed a single receiver by Santa Fe during the past two seasons.
Of course, the Chiefs' offense is likewise high-powered -- especially in the area of speed. Earlier this season, Santa Fe ran for 258 yards against the Trojans -- part of its 2,248 yards and 33 touchdowns gained on the ground this year.
"Our overall quickness and pursuit to the ball is our advantage," Fox claimed. "We're quick, quick, quick to the ball."
Corbin knows it, and is counting on his "Twin Towers" at defensive end -- senior Richard Mahurin (6-foot-3, 240) and junior Mark Brost (6-2, 280) -- to "close down the outside and run them back into 'The Force'" in the middle of the line.
"If The Force doesn't stop them, we're in trouble -- and that's what Santa Fe did," Corbin said. "Their runners are so good at cutting back."
In other words, a team can play a whale of a game -- and still not beat the Chiefs (10-0), who Corbin regards as "the best Class A team I've ever seen."
"We're going to have to play an absolutely error-free game," he said, which didn't occur the last time they met -- St. Mary's committing four turnovers. "We have to take advantage of any mistake they make, and be flawless ourselves."
With its recent string of success against the Trojans, will Santa Fe consider them a walkover?
"No! No! No! Not when you tell them it's playoff time," Fox declared. "We have to go out and play like we have all year long: good, hard, clean, physical football."
Neither is St. Mary's likely to by its recent failures against the Chiefs. In fact, Corbin contended that the Trojans are "looking forward to playing these guys."
"Some time they're going to slip up. My boys think it's this time," he explained. "Somebody's going to beat them. They're going to lose to somebody. It might as well be us."
One of these days, the run will have to end for Santa Fe. But not now, if Fox has his way.
"There are no second chances," Fox avowed. "If you lose, it's the end of the road."
A road, to St. Louis, down which the Chiefs mightily want to trek for the third year in a row.