Only 7 minutes, 45 seconds remained when the lead changed hands for a third time Friday between rivals Olathe East and Olathe North at the Olathe District Activity Center.
Making his first varsity start, Olathe East senior quarterback Connor Leach had just staked his Hawks to a four-point lead with a 14-yard strike to senior tight end Connor Alexander.
But there was no panic in Eagles junior quarterback Cole Murphy, who played for the first time since surgery to repair a torn labrum and dislocated shoulder 11 months ago and led Olathe North to a 26-23 season-opening victory.
“Cole was calm all night, he ran well and made good decisions,” Eagles coach Gene Wier said. “He brought us in and that’s the way we should play.”
Murphy mustered five carries for 21 yards, including a fourth-and-1 conversion, and connected on three of four passes for 32 yards in engineering a game-winning 12-play, 68-yard march. Junior running back Venus Triplett capped the drive with his third touchdown, a 12-yard touchdown run off right tackle, that put Olathe North in front for good.
“We wanted to beat East bad,” said Triplett, who scored on a 67-yard punt return in the first half and also added a 28-yard TD run in the third quarter. “This is a real good win. We wanted revenge from last year and it’s a rivalry game. Nobody gave up in that fourth quarter.”
Like any team in its season opener, Olathe North, 1-0, wasn’t perfect.
Olathe East, 0-1, jumped in front after a dropped punt snap led to a hurried 4-yard punt by junior Jesse Kendricks, which set up the Hawks at the Eagles’ 33.
Nine plays later, junior Jalen Branson scooted 6 yards untouched up the middle for a 7-0 lead.
Murphy, who rushed for 112 yards in 16 carries, answered with 13-yard touchdown run, but Olathe East still led 7-6 after a missed extra point.
The Eagles’ first lead came on Triplett’s special teams score, which made it 13-7 Olathe North at halftime.
The Hawks got two points for free when the Eagles’ first drive in the second half ended with a punt snap through the end zone for a safety.
Midway through the third quarter, Olathe East retook the lead at 16-13 on a 4-yard touchdown from Leach, who finished nine of 19 for 131 yards, to senior tight end Colby Stone.
Triplett’s first touchdown run put Olathe North back in front 19-16 before Alexander, who blocked an extra point in the third quarter, made that leaping grab in the end zone with 7:45 left.
“We made way too many mistakes and didn’t play with confidence, but hopefully we’ll grow from this one,” Wier said. “First game, I’m just glad we found enough to win it.”
The run defense deserves a lot of credit for that after limiting Olathe East to 122 yards in 36 carries. It marked a rare occurrence when the Hawks passed for more yards than they ran for (131-122).
“The scout team prepared us very well for a very good Olathe East run game, so props to them,” Olathe North linebacker Jimmie Swain said. “That got us ready for it. We have some things to work on, but our run defense performed well tonight.”