By Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Posted: September 21, 2012 - 12:31 AM
The Plainville and La Crosse matchup isn’t like most rivalries. First, Friday marks just the fourth time the teams have matched up since 2005, although all four meetings are in the last three years. La Crosse has won all three meetings, but each matchup is within 16 points.
The coaches, La Crosse’s Jon Webster and Plainville’s Joe Simon, are great friends who played college football together at Dodge City and meet every Sunday in Hays to watch the Chiefs.
The players participated against each other two summers ago at a Fort Hays State University camp and have mutual respect and friendship.
After La Crosse lost 20-14 in overtime in heartbreaking fashion to Centralia in the Class 2-1A state championship game last season, Webster said Plainville lineman Andy Malin was probably one of the people most upset with the loss.
However, the lack of history and kinship doesn’t lessen the allure of Plainville-La Crosse, arguably the most highly anticipated regular season contest in northwest Kansas this season. La Crosse, 3-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 2-1A, will travel to Plainville, 2-1 and just outside of the rankings.
“This one will give us an opportunity to see where we are at,” Webster said.
It’s the first meeting since two memorable contests last year. In Week 9, La Crosse defeated Plainville, 14-8, on the road. In the sub-state championship game, the Leopards beat Plainville, 13-6. The Leopards advanced to the first state championship game in school history at 12-1, while the Cardinals went 10-2 for the best season in two decades. As well, La Crosse won 32-16 in Week 9 of the 2010 season, a game that helped cost Plainville a playoff berth.
“Neither team should need much encouragement to get fired up for this one,” Simon said.
Along with Meade and Stanton County, Plainville and La Crosse form a strong quartet with one squad likely playing for the state title. Friday’s game has no district implications, but like the Meade/Stanton County matchup in Week 5, provides a matchup that could occur again in November.
“Everybody is back, everybody has got the same goals as us,” La Crosse senior Kip Keeley said in the preseason. “Of course, we see ourselves there, but everyone else sees themselves there, too. It’s just a matter of who can hold it together for the longest, who can stay healthy, who can start and finish better.”
While both teams return plenty of star power, the season has started differently for the squads. La Crosse, the lone Central Prairie League team that plays 11-man football, has had to travel long distances in past years.
That includes facing Southern Valley, Neb., and neutral site contests with KC Christ Prep and Sedan. This year, La Crosse changed its schedule and filled its first three weeks with nearby quality teams in Ellis, Hoisington and Minneapolis.
“Our parents love our schedule,” Webster said.
La Crosse faced Ellis for the first time since 2003 and earned a 16-6 road win in Week 1. In Week 2, the Leopards faced Hoisington for the first time in Webster’s five seasons in the program and collected a 34-12 victory.
Then, the Leopards picked up a 39-7 win versus Minneapolis last week. Dating back to last season, the Leopards have allowed just 9.4 points per game in their last nine contests. La Crosse stands fourth in Class 2-1A in scoring defense, according to preppowerindex.com.
Sophomore Sheldon Schmidt, who played some as a freshman and was expected to step up this year, leads the team with 25 tackles.
Keeley and Levi Morss, two of the state’s top players, have delivered big numbers.
Keeley has 20 tackles, an interception and 36 carries for 165 yards and two scores. He leads the team with six catches for 154 yards and two TDs. Morss, one of Kansas' fastest players, has 49 carries for 420 yards and three TDs with 14 tackles. Sophomore Jack Garcia has thrown for 375 yards with 5/1 TD/INT ratio.
Plainville suffered a big loss to Phillipsburg, 48-18, in Week 1, but then bounced back with victories against Ellis and Norton. Senior Harrison Gilliland leads the Cardinals’ smashmouth ground-heavy attack with 368 yards and three scores. The Cardinals average 302 rushing yards a game. Like La Crosse, Plainville has a first-year starting quarterback in junior Hadley Gillum.
Last season, La Crosse set a state record with 34 interceptions and finished plus-18 in turnover margin. Against Plainville, the Leopards were plus-3 in turnover margin.
"It's going to come down to whichever team makes the least amount of mistakes, both turnovers and penalties," Webster said. "And then whichever team can handle the situation.”