Blue Valley North football coach Andy Sims lifted his arms, a Kansas 6A sub-state championship trophy in his hands, and tried to silence a group of frantic high school athletes on Friday night in Stilwell.
The task was difficult. Talc powder floated in the air as the players screamed, celebrating a double overtime 44-37 victory against Blue Valley.
BV North junior quarterback Graham Mertz emerged from the scrum, and instead of being the first one to quell his excitement, he threw himself into Sims’ outstretched arms.
As the two hugged, the team began to settle in the background. The Mustangs assembled long enough for a group picture before returning to the visiting locker room at Blue Valley’s stadium, riled up because they had just secured the team’s first appearance in a state championship game.
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Mertz, a Wisconsin commit who passed for 316 yards and three touchdowns, keyed the victory. He score two touchdowns in extra time.
“You knew it was going to be a blood bath,” said Mertz, who is in his first year as a varsity starter. “We had great energy on the sidelines. That fueled us to go on a run and finish the game out. … I’m ready for next week. I’m ready to get a ring.”
The win avenged a 34-33 regular-season loss to Blue Valley, which reached sub-state for the third year in a row under first-year coach Allen Terrell’s direction. Formerly a defensive coordinator, Terrell was hired to lead Blue Valley after Eric Driskell died in February.
Blue Valley (8-4) took the football for a second time in overtime but BV North senior tackle Nick Orr wouldn’t let Blue Valley get too far. He sacked Blue Valley’s Luke Bernard for a loss of 3 yards on a second-and-14 play. The ensuing pair of incomplete passes doomed Blue Valley, which had tied the game 30-30 on a Jackson Likens 22-yard field goal with 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Likens wouldn’t have gotten a final attempt if Blue Valley hadn’t recovered from a BV North interception with about eight minutes remaining.
Blue Valley North entered the fourth quarter with momentum, high on a 29-yard field goal from Tripp Shirtenlieb. It gave the Mustangs their first lead since the first quarter, when they went up 7-0 on a 56-yard touchdown pass to Nijel Roberts.
Blue Valley had quickly countered. Bernard connected with Cameron Green on a 72-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 7-7. Likens drilled his first of three field goals on Blue Valley’s next drive.
Blue Valley held BV North to two additional touchdowns in the first half — one on a 29-yard catch by Cameron Burt, and the other on a 4-yard rush by Grant Hammel — but Blue Valley’s 27-21 halftime lead wasn’t enough.
“We had to do something. They had 27 points and they only ran 26 plays,” said Sims, in his fourth year leading BV North. “They were running all over us in the first half. We had to give (Mertz) a little more support with the clock.”
Blue Valley North (8-4) will play defending champion Derby in the state final next Saturday at Emporia State. Three Eastern Kansas League teams will play for state football titles: Blue Valley North, St. Thomas Aquinas (5A) and Bishop Miege (4A-Division I).