A few teams got going Thursday night, including Olathe South (which registered an impressive 33-20 win against Lawrence). But high school football is made for Friday night and here are the best games tonight in Johnson County. Also, if you haven’t read about Olathe South senior Braden Smith, check it out.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
1. Olathe East at Olathe North
When/where: 7 p.m. Friday at the Olathe District Activity Center
What to expect: The battles these programs used to wage were the stuff of legends. Tense, physical, nail-biting affairs with a defensive tone in front of a packed stadium. This week’s showdown should feel like a revival of that rivalry.
Gene Wier’s Eagles are loaded on defense, especially on defense. It starts with TCU commit Jimmie Swain, who played for Olathe North as a sophomore before moving to Lee’s Summit and subsequently transferring back. It doesn’t end there. Junior returning starter Marcel Spears is also a beast and Jesse Kendricks can lay the lumber too.
Tyler Bacon — heckuva name for a lineman, right? — and Morgan Stahl serve as the bookends on a remade offensive line, but the Eagles have size up front. Of course, running back Venus Triplett doesn’t need much time or space to rip off big plays. Quarterback Cole Murphy missed all but basically two games last season, but he showed promising flashes and could be a revelation in his junior campaign.
Meanwhile, the visiting Hawks bring back seven players on a defense that allowed 15.5 points per game last season and that number is skewed by the 41 points Shawnee Mission East hung on Jeff Meyers’ crew early in the season. Of course, Olathe East wound up trouncing those same Lancers 17-7 during the Class 6A playoffs.
It should be a defensive struggle, but Olathe North is a little more balanced and unpredictable on offense, while Olathe East is breaking in a new quarterback, senior Connor Leach. Ultimately, that probably tips the scales in the Eagles’ favor in a smash-mouth defensive struggle.
Prediction: Olathe North 17, Olathe East 14
2. Gardner Edgerton at Blue Valley
When/where: 7 p.m. Friday at Blue Valley
What to expect: Another juicy matchup. The Trailblazers always talk big and talk entering the season, but coach Marvin Diener’s crew backs up that bravado as well. The Tigers are the polar opposite — buttoned up and quietly confident. Still, both teams are among the state’s most successful programs in the last decade.
Both teams also should be good again. Bottling up Gardner Edgerton tailback Traevohn Wrench is never an easy task. He has to speed to reach the end zone on any snap, but Blue Valley is big and physical up front and has excellent linebackers, particularly Henry McGrew and Joe Forlenza, who will aim to slow down the future Kansas running back. Of course, with Jared Hobby back for his third season as the starting quarterback, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Blazers show more balance on offense and catch teams with some deep balls.
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ offense led by second-year starter Logan Brettell doesn’t get as much hype, but it’s effective and potentially every bit as potent. Then again, people tend to sleep on Gardner Edgerton’s defense too, but Diener likes the salty bunch he’s assembled on that side of the ball.
Prediction: Gardner Edgerton 32, Blue Valley 27
3. SM West at SM South
When/where: 7 p.m. Friday at SM South District Stadium
What to expect: Big things are expected again from reigning Class 6A state champion SM West, but the Vikings also have a huge target permanently painted on them now. Coach Tim Callaghan is aware of that and insists his club still plans to be more hunter than hunted. Hopefully, his kids understand and have digested that message.
SM South has a big, experienced offensive line and Ra’Keim Abdul has big-time playmaker potential. The Raiders would love to send an early-season message that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Of course, SM West has its own big-play threat, Kansas commit Andre Maloney, and a quarterback with varsity experience in A.J. Verdini.
Prediction: SM West 28, SM South 21
4. St. Thomas Aquinas at BV Northwest
When/where: 7 p.m. Friday at the BV District Activities Complex
What to expect: These are the kind of matchups BV Northwest found a way to lose last season, including a 10-6 loss in last season’s opener against Aquinas in a torrential downpour. Now, with five starters back on the offensive line and an abundance talented skill kids, the Huskies hope for a change in fortunes.
Meanwhile, Saints senior quarterback Danten Cosentino returns, but there’s a lot of youth and inexperience surrounding him. Aquinas might break from the gate slowly before finishing the season strong. That said, the Saints would love to shock a few people once again.
Prediction: BV Northwest 28, St. Thomas Aquinas 21
5. SM East at Leavenworth
When/where: 7 p.m. Friday at Leavenworth
What to expect: Who knows? Dustin Delaney is in his first year at SM East. He came from Emporia when Chip Sherman bolted for the Olathe Northwest job. Of course, Mark Littrell and his spread attack is also new at Leavenworth, although the former Olathe South coach is familiar with the Sunflower League. He should have some fun figure out ways to get Jason Randall the football. These are two programs on the upswing in recent seasons and both are eager for good starts under new regimes.
Prediction: SM East 24, Leavenworth 21