On its way to the Class 4 state championship last year, Harrisonville suffered a 19-7 loss against Grain Valley during the regular season.
The Wildcats went on to win the rest of their games last season, including a rematch with the Eagles for the district title.
This year, Harrisonville (8-3) is on five-game winning streak after losing to ... Grain Valley.
The Wildcats and Eagles are set to clash once again in the Class 4, District 6 final on Friday, Nov. 3 — this time at Grain Valley.
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Is it déjà vu? Not exactly, according to Harrisonville coach Brent Maxwell.
Last year’s loss, Maxwell noted, came at the end of a three-game losing streak, a skid fueled by an inability to hold on to the ball.
When the Wildcats lost this year’s contest 16-13 on the last play of the game, it capped a 3-3 start by a young team still trying to find its way.
“We lost several seniors who contributed last year, so we had a lot of new guys,” Maxwell said. “They were here last year but many of them didn’t have a ton of experience coming into this year. We were definitely fighting for everything early just trying to find out who we were.”
Maxwell and the Wildcats found out they wouldn’t be the rushing juggernaut of recent years. Harrisonville can still grind out yards on the ground, but the team also realized its best bet was a more balanced option-style attack.
“We’ve tried to be a little more balanced as far as running game and our passing game goes,” Maxwell said. “We were probably being a little stubborn trying to stick to who we were last year.”
Maxwell knows Harrisonville can throw the ball now with quarterback Ryan Byrd, a senior who has 1,400 passing yards and 600 rushing yards this season. Byrd has thrown 19 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
Byrd’s versatility also has helped open holes for Harrisonville’s senior running back tandem of Wyatt Reynolds and Joe Bowers. Reynolds leads the Wildcats with 1,122 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 147 carries. Bowers, who rushed for more than 200 yards in the last year’s Class 4 title game, has 771 yards on 108 carries.
Many things are different, but, just like last year, everything started to click for Harrisonville after the Grain Valley loss.
The Wildcats have averaged 42.8 points per game since, including a 33-7 victory against Grandview on Oct. 27 during the district semifinals — a game in which Wyatt rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns, Bowers added 131 rushing yards and Byrd threw two touchdowns against the Bulldogs.
“From that point forward, our kids came together and they were like, ‘Hey you know what? This is our identity,’” Maxwell said of the Grain Valley loss. “We know who we are and this is what we’re going to do and now we just have to get better at some of those things. And they’ve committed to that and we’ve executed pretty since then.”
Maxwell hopes to keep that roll going in the second meeting with the Eagles (9-2), who also have been putting lots of points on the board lately, including last week’s 52-14 district semifinal win against Nevada.
The path this year thus far has proven similar to last year, and Maxwell would like it to be déjà vu all over again in the district final.
“We’re excited to go back Grain Valley,” he said. “We’re looking forward to going over there to kind of use that as a measuring stick to see if we’ve improved as much as we think we have.”