SM East gets its second chance to bring home the school’s first state football championship Saturday. With 16 starters returning from last year’s team, the Lancers have plenty of experience with the big game atmosphere of a state title game — but they’re also facing one of their toughest opponents of the past two years. Hutchinson got off to a rocky 2-4 start after suffering a number of key injuries early in their season. But they’ve been steamrolling opponents ever since, not having lost since Oct. 10. Here are three keys for the Lancers to secure the state title against Hutch:
Execute like they have all year. Olathe North only got back into last week’s substate game after the Lancers had two uncharacteristic flubs on offense. Chaz Burgess picked off a pass from Gunnar Englund in the third quarter and ran it back for a touchdown, and the Eagles blocked a punt on the ensuing possession to set up a short touchdown drive. What’s more, on two occasions the Lancers drove into the red zone only to be turned away without scoring. Much of SM East’s dominant success throughout the regular season can be attributed to its workmanlike, mistake-free efficiency on offense. If the Lancers can return to form Saturday, they’ll be tough to beat.
Contain Blaik Middleton. The success of Hutchinson’s offense rides in large part on the legs of running back Blaik Middleton, who lit up Free State last week for six touchdown, three of them on runs of more than 50 yards. Take a look at this touchdown against Maize earlier this season to get a sense of what he can do:
The Lancers defense has been excellent all season long, and did a solid job keeping Olathe North’s Venus Triplett, the Sunflower League’s leading rusher, under control last week. If they can put similar pressure on Middleton and Hutchinson’s talented offensive line, they should be able to keep Hutch from putting up gaudy offensive numbers.
Keep Hutch guessing. The great thing about the Lancers’ offense is that they can hurt opponents a number of ways. With Sam Huffman and Jackson Gossick as speedy threats on the wings, Wyatt Edmisten pounding the ball up the middle, Gunnar Englund able to break away for big keepers, and Alec Dean and Sky Tate posing big-gain threats through the air, the Lancers have no shortage of weapons. Coach Dustin Delaney has used all of those weapons as he has dialed up unique offensive game plans throughout the year. Look for him to throw something unexpected at the Salt Hawks.
Remember there’s a community pep rally for the Lancers tonight in the U.S. Bank parking lot at the Village Shops. The rally, which will feature the players, coaches, cheerleaders and the school choir, kicks off at 7 p.m.
And tomorrow morning there will be a send off rally at 7:30 a.m., where fans will gather by the Village Shops clocktower to cheer the Lancers as their buses make their way through the shopping center on their way to Emporia.