Olathe South and Lawrence are both young, churning over huge portions of their roster and forced to replace a lot of key players.
When the two teams met Thursday at the Olathe District Activity Center, it was the first real chance for Falcons coach Jeff Gourley and Chesty Lions coach Dirk Wedd to gauge expectations for the upcoming season.
Both teams should be encouraged, but especially Olathe South, which triumphed 33-20 behind a balanced and potent offensive attack.
Junior Jake Seurer took the reins as the Falcons’ quarterback, stepping into the shoes filled the last few seasons by his older brother, Frankie Jr., who has moved on to Hutchinson Community College.
As a sophomore, Seurer started in the secondary for Olathe South, so he wasn’t overwhelmed by the varsity spotlight and flourished in his debut.
"Jake’s more of a finesse guy," Gourley said. "He’s got touch, he’s calm and never gets out of control. He just drops it in the bucket where it needs to be. That’s what he brings to the table and we’re excited to have it."
Seurer completed eight of 13 passes for 219 yards and four touchdowns, including three in the second half.
"It is very different stepping in offense, because I’m calling the plays and leading the offense down the field," Seurer said. "But the line and the receivers made it so easy for me."
Seurer put the Falcons in front for good with a 31-yard touchdown to senior Thomas McCue and 53-yard scoring strike to senior Dresden Wilbur in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Seurer capped his night with a back-breaking 83-yard pitch-and-catch to senior Cameron White.
"They’re starting to call me Air Gourley," Gourley said. "Somebody called it the Wing-It T. That’s all right. Four touchdowns — we’ll take what they give us."
The Falcons also rushed for 222 yards and chewed up the first half on the ground.
Olathe South, which won the Class 6A state title two years ago before missing the playoffs last fall (5-4), opened the game with a 15-play drive that devoured 6 minutes, 14 seconds capped by junior Aaron Swartz’s 26-yard field goal.
Lawrence answered with a 30-yard touchdown from junior Nyle Anderson to senior Zay Boldridge, who was impressive as the Lions’ best receiving threat as well as returning kickoffs.
The Falcons’ second possession was a 13-play drive capped by Seurer’s first touchdown, a 16-yard pass to McCue, but Wedd’s boys marched right back down the field and retook the lead on senior Kieran Severa’s 1-yard plunge.
Olathe South junior Coleman Clanton blocked the extra point to keep Lawrence’s lead at 13-10, which allowed Swartz to knot the game going into halftime with a 28-yard field goal as time expired.
The Falcons’ defense forced punts on back-to-back drives to open the second half.
Eventually, that allowed Olathe South, which had deployed a punishing ground to that point, to open up the passing game and pull away.
"We knew this game would tell us how we’re going to be and now we see that anything is possible," Seurer said.
Lawrence did keep things interesting with a 40-yard pass from Anderson to Adam Hayes barely a minute into the fourth quarter. The touchdown, which came off a tipped ball Seurer nearly intercepted inside the 5-yard line, made it 27-20.
"We’ll learn what mistakes me made when we watch film and what glitches there are, but we ran the offense so solid tonight," Gourley said. "I figured out what I already knew — we’re young, but we’re smart. We’ve got bright kids. We may not be the biggest or the toughest or the meanest, but we’re probably going to have some of the smarter kids on the field every game."
Facing the reigning Class 6A champion, Shawnee Mission West, next week will provide an even tougher test for Olathe South.
But there’s reason for optimism amongst the Falcons’ flock.
"It guarantees us one thing — we won’t lose them all," Gourley said.
And that’s a good place to start for a young team needing to build early-season confidence.
Gourley also had some advice for SM West coach Tim Callaghan.
"They don’t need to be leery of us," he said. "Tim, relax and take the week off."