Blue Springs senior Elijah Lee stood near midfield beaten up, worn out and thoroughly out of breath. Blades of grass stuck to the sweat dripping off his face. His knee brace was in need of a couple repairs.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
All worth it.
“Three hundred and sixty-five days,” he said with a smile. “That’s how long we’ve been waiting for this. We won’t forget this one soon.”
Maybe not ever.
Lee and the Blue Springs defense came up with a late-game stop Friday to lift the Wildcats to a dramatic 42-35 victory at Lee’s Summit West.
A game featuring two No. 1-ranked unbeaten teams — Blue Springs in Missouri Class 6 and Lee’s Summit West in Missouri Class 5 (with Blue Springs No. 2 in the Star’s big-class rankings and LS West No. 1) — lived up to its billing. And then some.
In a heavyweight match, Blue Springs rediscovered its prized fighter. A week after he found only tough plodding against Rockhurst, senior tailback Dalvin Warmack ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns on just 24 carries.
His final score — a 3-yard plunge up the middle with 5:45 remaining — served as the game-winner.
Blue Springs linebacker Gunnar Strickland sniffed out a fourth-down screen pass on the the Titans’ potential game-tying drive.
“We switched some things up front, and those guys worked their butts off all week,” said Warmack, the reigning Thomas A. Simone Award winner. “It showed (on Friday). You saw the difference.”
The game was personal for Warmack, who blamed himself for Blue Springs’ 35-28 overtime loss to Lee’s Summit West last season. That was the lone blemish during the Wildcats’ state-championship season.
“I had a chance to tie the game in overtime and dropped a pass,” Warmack said of last season’s loss. “That’s never left me since.”
It hadn’t left his teammates either, who earned payback Friday, though not before withstanding a series of hard-hitting jabs from Lee’s Summit West. Each time, though, Blue Springs fought back.
Neither team led by more than seven points throughout the course of the game.
After the Titans grabbed the early 7-0 lead, Blue Springs responded with a pair of defensive scores. Darrius Shepherd returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown, and Lee returned a backward pass 78 yards for another score.
Lee’s Summit West argued the pass was forward and therefore shouldn’t have been ruled a fumble, but to no avail.
Nevertheless, the Titans responded quickly. They rode the arm of quarterback Thomas Ganaden, who completed 32 of 53 passes for 417 yards and a touchdown. The pass attempts marked a career high.
“My arm is sore. Heck, my whole body is sore,” Ganaden said. “I don't think I’ve ever been smacked around like that. But that was fun. That’s the best game I’ve ever played in.”
Monte Harrison was the beneficiary of the pass-heavy attack, which was designed to limit the impact of Blue Springs’ monstrous defensive line. Harrison, LS West’s top wideout, caught 15 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown. He also ran in two more touchdowns, each on direct snaps from 1 yard out.
“That kid is the best player I think I’ve coached against since I’ve been at Blue Springs,” Wildcats coach Kelly Donohoe said. “We tried everything against him. That kid is special.”
As were both teams Friday night.
Not that either coach was surprised.
“Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, baby,” Lee’s Summit West coach Royce Boehm said. “You saw two really, really good teams battling their butts off.”