Olathe North had a very un-Olathe North-like season a year ago, losing four straight to open the season and finishing 3-7 overall.
The Eagles were eager to show how much things had changed Friday during the 2013 season opener against rival Olathe East.
Mission accomplished: Olathe North gutted out a 26-23 win behind Cole Murphy’s grit returning from shoulder surgery and Venus Triplett’s three-touchdown performance.
Consider the Sunflower League and the rest of Class 6A on notice.
"We wanted to show we were bigger, stronger, faster and a more mature football team than last year," Eagles senior linebacker Jimmie Swain said. "I think we showed that tonight."
Swain, of course, didn’t play for Olathe North last season, but the TCU commit was an Eagle as a sophomore and returned for his senior season after playing at Lee’s Summit for a year.
Tenacious defense long has been a hallmark of Olathe North’s program, so reclaiming that identity was important.
Against the Hawks, who are a run-dominated team most seasons, the Eagles stuffed the run and actually allowed more passing yards than rushing yards — a rare circumstance in Olathe East’s 22 seasons.
"We’re going to be OK as that unit grows," Olathe North coach Gene Wier said. "The run defense especially played well. We made some mistakes in the secondary, which is where our young kids are, so we’ve got to get better there."
Just as encouraging, Murphy marshaled the Eagles to a game-winning drive in the final 7 minutes, 45 seconds . He played with poise and consistently made excellent decisions, which put his team in position to win.
Murphy, a junior, won Olathe North’s starting quarterback job as a sophomore, but was knocked out in the third game and eventually had to have surgery to repair a torn labrum and separated shoulder.
"I had some butterflies in the beginning, I’m not going to lie," Murphy said. "I had to get popped once or twice to feel like I was back in it. But it felt good to be back out there after all the physical therapy, which really helped with all this."