“I know it’s felt like forever for the playoffs to get here,” SM East head coach Dustin Delaney told his team after they wrapped up districts play with another dominating performance, this time against SM North. “Well, they’re here.”
Indeed, on Friday night the Lancers will take the first steps toward their goal of a trip back to the state 6A title game for a chance to earn the school’s first ever championship with a playoff-opening game against 5-4 Lawrence. Though the Lancers enter the game as distinct favorites — the Topeka Capital Journal gives them a 17 point edge in the spread — the Lions pose a competitive challenge infrequently seen by SM East during the regular season. With the Sunflower League’s top rusher in JD Woods and the top sack threat in defensive end Amani Bledsoe, the Lions have playmakers who could turn the game in a matter of moments.
SM East and Lawrence have a deep history as Sunflower League rivals, but have met infrequently in the postseason. The Lancers are 0-2 against the Lions in playoff games, but the two squads haven’t met in the post-season since 1995, when Lawrence trounced Glen Percy’s SM East team 21-0 on the way to their tenth and most recent state title. Last year, SM East and Lawrence met in the regular season, with the Lancers beating the Lions 26-3.
Of the top three ranked teams in the East half of the 6A bracket, the top-seeded Lancers drew the toughest opponent. The hot Blue Valley squad, currently 8-1, faces 3-6 SM South in the three vs. six seed game. Second seeded Olathe North, 9-0, faces SM North, 2-7. Assuming Olathe North and Blue Valley emerge from their Regionals matches Friday, they’ll square off against each other next week in Sectionals. If SM East takes care of business against Lawrence, they’ll face the winner of SM West, 5-4, and Olathe South, 7-2.
(H/T to Kevin Booker for the historical data).
The Lancer Gridiron Club’s Brian Libeer produced the following motivational video for the SM East team ahead of tonight’s game: