Humidity and anticipation hung thick in the early evening air at Lee’s Summit West High School.
Opening week of high school football always adds a little extra in the mix. Combine that with the fact that the Titans and Park Hill — two of the top Missouri Class 6 schools in the metro area — and kickoff couldn’t come soon enough.
Lee’s Summit West came out ready to answer the bell, and the Titans were able to put an early hammerlock on what turned into a 34-21 victory on Friday night.
It started with the Titans’ opening drive, an epic 16-play, 69-yard march against a deep and talented Park Hill defense. The Titans (1-0) converted three third downs, and picked up a fourth-down conversion on a Park Hill penalty.
“It was crucial. It just set the tone. It was pretty good,” Lee’s Summit West quarterback Ben Kobel said. “It was a lot of preparation. It kind of just told us to settle down and be smooth on every play.”
It was just the start Lee’s Summit West coach Vinny Careswell was looking for.
“I think it lit a fire under the Titan football team. We were excited,” Careswell said. “To sustain drives like that, even though we’re more of a pass-oriented team, to keep that rhythm going is extremely important to us. It means we can drive the ball and score on a great defense.”
Park Hill had a lot of new faces on offense after losing quarterback Billy Maples and Simione Award-winner Ronnie Bell to graduation.
That inexperience manifested itself with a fumble on the Trojans’ first play from scrimmage. Lee’s Summit West converted the touchdown, and took control of the game before the sun set behind the stadium.
The Lee’s Summit West defense forced three turnovers and a three-and-out on Park Hill’s first four possessions.
“It was awesome. We didn’t get as many points for them after they got the turnovers, but being a younger defense, it was awesome seeing them get those turnovers,” Kobel said.
If it were a video game, Park Hill likely would’ve hit the reset button. The Titans took a 24-0 lead into halftime, and ran 49 first-half plays to just 16 for Park Hill.
It won’t always work out that way, of course, but it was an ideal start for a young Titan defense.
“The defense just has to hold, with these young guys. We’ve got some speed on the defensive side of the ball. We didn’t know what Park Hill had, so for us to come out and stop those drives that Park Hill initiated, it was an awesome confidence builder for our D,” Careswell said. “I’m very proud of them.”
Park Hill found some offensive momentum in the second half behind senior quarterback Ryan Graves, who finished the game with three touchdown passes after not completing a pass in the first half. The Trojans were able to cut the lead to 10 before the Titans were able to salt the game away.
Kobel finished with 230 yards through the air and one touchdown pass. More importantly, he and the Titans proved they can move the ball when needed.
Success against Park Hill could translate to success against just about any team remaining on the schedule.
“Ben is cool in the pocket, super smart. Anything that’s negative doesn’t get to him,” Careswell said.
There wasn’t much negative for the Titans to dwell on.