Mirror images: Garden Plain, Scott City eerily similar
By BRETT MARSHALL
That's what Garden Plain's Brad McCormick, and to a degree, Scott City's Glenn O'Neil see when they look at films of their respective opponents.
Something will have to give when these two unbeatens, ranked No. 2 and 3, respectively, step onto O.L. Darner Field at 6 p.m. Friday in a Class 3A sectional championship game. The winner earns the right to play in the semifinals on Nov. 16 against Friday's Sedgwick-Beloit winner.
His counterpart at Garden Plain, Brad McCormick, is in his first year as the Owls' head coach. But he's no stranger to the program. He's been at the school for 10 years, on the sidelines for eight seasons and now calls the shots for the Owls.
O'Neil is completing his sixth season at the helm of the Beavers, having guided them to postseason play each season while compiling a 60-10 won-loss record.
These teams last played in 2008 in what may have been one of the most memorable and stirring football games in recent memory.
It was on the same field, and in the same round of the playoffs.
O'Neil remembers, and the memory is painful.
The heartache was created when the Beavers watched a 17-6 lead with 1:56 left in the game only to have a punt blocked by the Owls which was recovered for a touchdown; fumble the ball away on the ensuing possession and then have Garden Plain score what proved to be the winning TD in just two plays. From a seemingly safe 11-point lead to a 3-point loss in just 116 ticks of the clock.
"I do remember the 2008 game, and what I remember is that Scott City had control of much of the game except for those last few minutes," McCormick said. "I'm sure the fans remember it. It was one of those games that you'd be hard-pressed to forget. It was one you're very happy when you win, and it had to be very sad for the other team. Everybody worked hard that game, and we were able to get it at the end."
For O'Neil, the loss still has a place in the back of his memory bank.
"Losing to Conway last year wasn't as heartbreaking as it was to (Wichita) Collegiate (2009) and to Garden Plain," O'Neil said. "The shock wasn't as great. We watched the first half of that (2008) game and I think defensively, they have the same philosophy and so do we. We weren't looking at the other part (2nd half). You're going to have to be physical to beat a team from that league. Looking back, that was one of the toughest losses one could ever have. But you have to go on, you have to make your breaks for all the hard work that goes into getting this far."
But both coaches know that the game of four years ago has little to do with what will happen on Friday night.
"If we've taken anything away from what's happened in the losses the last few seasons, it is that you have to be the aggressor from the outset," O'Neil said. "You have to establish yourself on offense, and what we've tried to do this year is to be better balanced and not just rely on the run. We want to establish our passing game to be just as effective as our running game."
The Beavers have done that effectively, but so have the Owls.
These two teams are so closely aligned when looking at season statistics, one might just be looking in the mirror.
Consider that the teams have each scored 519 points (47.2 average). Scott City has a slight edge on the defensive side of the scoring column, holding foes to 6.8 points to the Owls' 14.9 points, but in all likelihood the Owls overall schedule would rate tougher. The Beavers have a plus-14 on the turnover ratio to the Owls' plus-8. Each team has intercepted opponents 16 times. While both teams favor the run (357.4 to 286.3 yards per game, with Garden Plain holding the edge), the Beavers have the passing edge of 139.8 yards to 108.7. Scott City quarterback Brett O'Neil has been intercepted just once while Owls' QB Caleb Arnold is 48-of-82 for 1,122 yards and been picked off five times. O'Neil has thrown for a career best 1,549 yards on 89-of-129 (69 percent) efficiency.
The Owls have two 1,000-yard runners in Denver Doyle (1,406 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Dylan Clark (1,199 yards, 22 TDs). Two others, Arnold at quarterback (538 yards, 7 TDs) and Ethan Balestracci (515 yards, 12 TDs), are also threats out of a combination flex and wishbone offensive formation.
While Silver Lake on the east side of the state has sat atop the 3A rankings all year, the Beavers were ranked No. 2 at the season's outset and still reside there while the Owls are right behind at No. 3 after starting at No. 4. The Owls have arrived at the quarterfinals with two victories over rival Conway Springs, one a 41-21 triumph during the regular season, and the latest, a 33-28 win on Saturday in the second-round of the playoffs. The Beavers, meanwhile, have ripped off 55-6 and 55-7 wins over Cimarron at Salina-Sacred Heart.
"We tend to like running the ball as much as we can, and its worked for us," McCormick said. "But if we need to throw, we have been able to do that, as well. We'll spread it out if we need to.
"When I've seen them (Scott City) on film, they remind me so much of us," McCormick said of the Beavers. "They've got speed, size and great athletes. They do a good job of stopping what we do best. Their QB throws a nice ball, and their speed — you can't mimic that in practice — is really a strong suit. Kite (Drew, 6-4, 215) reminds me of Doyle. He's big, well-rounded and has speed, size and strength. They will be one of the few teams we see that has the whole package."
Both O'Neil and McCormick agree that the west side of Class 3A is once again like going through a torture chamber. Beloit, another semifinalist from a year ago, faces Sedgwick on Friday in the other west side matchup.
"It's just brutal," McCormick said of the quality of teams in the west. "It provides for good high school football games, and certainly recent history says that if you survive coming out of the west side, you've got a good chance in the championship game."
When all is said and done, however, O'Neil says it comes down to execution and which team makes the fewest mistakes and penalties.
"We've got to force them into some three-play and six-play drives and get them off the field so we have the ball," O'Neil said. "It's the same philosophy for them. We expect a physical game, and I think they expect the same thing.
"This is what everyone looks forward to when the season gets started back in August. Only one team at the end goes home happy."
The winner will go on the road for the Nov. 16 semifinal game at either Sedgwick or Beloit.
Season Team Statistics
First downs 223 225
Rushes-yards 480-3931 448-3435
Passing yards 1196 1677
Com-Att-Int 50-93-6 95-140-1
Total Offense 5127 5112
Fumbles-lost 17-14 20-10
Total turnovers 20 11
Turnover margin +8 +14
Penalties-yards 72-555 63-535
Punts-avg. 8-35.8 15-34.1
Points Scored 519 519
Points Yielded 164 75
RUSHING (Attempts-Yards-TDs)--Garden Plain: Denver Doyle 164-1406-11; Dylan Clark 123-1199-22; Caleb Arnold 56-538-7; Ethan Balestracci 70-515-12. Scott City: Dalton Buehler 129-1535-20; Brenner Wells 77-466-12; Tius Price 27-347-5; Paco Banda 51-260-4.
PASSING (Com-Att-Int--Yards)--Garden Plain: Caleb Arnold 48-82-5--1122. Scott City: Brett O'Neil 89-129-1--1549.
RECEIVING (Catches-Yards-TDs)--Garden Plain: Nick Schumacher 14-244-3; Denver Doyle 9-223-3; Tim Bugner 9-179-2; Michael Panek 8-281-6; Dylan Clark 6-173-2. Scott City: Tyler Hess 23-429-4; Drew Kite 23-464-9; Trey O'Neil 13-193-3; Dalton Buehler 16-345-4.