Five must-see high school football games this weekend featuring Southland teams:
By SAM MCDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
1. Grain Valley (3-1) at Pleasant Hill (4-0)
Only four weeks into the season, both Grain Valley and Pleasant Hill have topped their victory totals of last season. Pleasant Hill is averaging 39 points per game. Why is that significant? Well, the Roosters scored 39 points only once in 10 games in 2012. Grain Valley's performance has been just as surprising, especially considering the Eagles have only eight seniors on the roster. Their young team, however, has transitioned smoothly into Jimmy Tucker's new spread offense. This game is the opening salvo for both teams in the Missouri River Valley Conference West, which looks like an awfully tough league at the moment. Among future opponents, Oak Grove is unbeaten, and traditional power Harrisonville is 3-1.
2. Blue Springs South (3-1) at Rockhurst (1-3)
Ignore the records. Blue Springs South and Rockhurst haven't set the world on fire in the opening month of the season, but recent weeks suggest they could still be factors come playoff time. After an early 0-3 record for the first time in coach Tony Severino's 31-year tenure, Rockhurst obliterated Hutchinson (Kan.) 41-7 last week. No slouch opponent, Hutchinson had scored 90 points in its 2-0 start. Blue Springs South, meanwhile, has won back-to-back games since an ugly loss to Fort Osage. Tailback Emery Ester is starting to perform well in the leading role, and the Jaguars' defense has been much tougher against the pass than it was last season.
3. Liberty (3-1) at Blue Springs (4-0)
Lee's Summit spoiled a potential showdown of two undefeated teams when it dealt Liberty its first loss last week. Still, Liberty can keep its Suburban Gold Conference title hopes alive with a bounce-back win against conference favorite Blue Springs. That won't come easily, obviously. The Wildcats haven't lost a conference game since 2008, and after last week's conquest of Lee's Summit West, it appears they may be more loaded than a year ago when they won the Missouri Class 6 state championship. The key matchup Friday will be Liberty's sizable offensive line, led by guard Jacob Francis, against the Blue Springs defensive line, which includes Elijah Lee and brothers Carlos and Khalil Davis.
4. Raytown South (1-3) at Liberty North (2-2)
Raytown South expected to compete for a Suburban Blue Conference championship. Instead, the Cardinals opened the season with three straight losses. But they earned an important comeback victory over St. Joseph Central last Friday behind a monster game from running back Glenn Pargo, so it's not too late to salvage the season. Liberty North dropped its Suburban Blue Conference league opener in heartbreaking fashion last Friday, 26-25 to Kearney. Again however, there's plenty of time to play catch up, especially in what is one of the most balanced conferences in Missouri.
5. Excelsior Springs (2-2) at Harrisonville (3-1)
Harrisonville enters its most important three-game stretch of the season, against Excelsior Springs, followed by games at Grain Valley and Oak Grove. The trip to Oak Grove might be decisive in the Missouri River Valley Conference West championship, but first things first. The Wildcats play host to Excelsior Springs, an intriguing under-the-radar team that has been competitive in four games under first-year coach Josh Buford. The Excelsior Springs defense has been up and down and will have its hands full with Harrisonville quarterback Zach Davidson and tailback Austin Hopper, who has rushed for 506 yards and seven touchdowns in four weeks.