By NICK SLOAN, NJSloan212@gmail.com
The Kaw Valley League has a defacto championship game this season.
The Piper Pirates and Mill Valley Jaguars are similar record wise. After losing a tough road game to open the season, both teams have won four straight games to set up the showdown.
Mill Valley will be the host, while Piper looks to win another big road game. Both teams enter 4-1 overall and both have a 4-0 record in the KVL.
Here are some keys and game notes.
1. Needless to say, Piper needs to find a way to stop Mill Valley quarterback Skyler Windmiller. If fantasy football was applied to high school football - and thank goodness it hasn't been - Windmiller would probably be on championship teams out there. He's 61-of-99 this season for 1,117 yards and 15 touchdowns. In the past three games alone, he's thrown for 10 touchdowns and one interception. As you might imagine, stopping him would be ideal. However, containing him might be the more realistic option. If his passing numbers are not enough for you, he also leads his team in rushing with 327 rushing yards. Piper's experienced secondary and linebackers (led by Colton Beebe and Blake Martin) will have a big challenge Friday night. Windmiller tore Piper up last year - passing for over 300 yards and four touchdowns.
3. Piper's senior class has played Mill Valley tough in losses. The Pirates and Jaguars have played one-possession games the last two years. Can Piper keep it close again and score the big upset? It's a big challenge, but the Piper seniors need to remember the last two years and they can't be intimidated by Mill Valley. If a team is intimidated, the game is already over.
4. LJ Hatch, Christian Jegen and Staton Rebeck have been big in the passing game for Windmiller. Rebeck has scored six touchdowns this season, while Jegen and Hatch have added four a piece. Piper's secondary will have to step up in a big way for the Pirates to have a chance.
5. Tanner Eikenbary played well against Mill Valley last year. Eikenbary led a big-time comeback attempt by the Pirates, who fell behind 27-0 in the game last year. Piper rallied to cut the lead down 27-20 by the end of the game. Eikenbary played perhaps the best game of his career - throwing for over 320 yards in the game.
6. In terms of the Mill Valley rushing attack, keep an eye on Kendall Short, Nick Wilson and Logan Koch. They've combined for over 400 yards this season. Short had an injury earlier this season, but had seven carries for 40 yards against Bonner Springs last week. He's also contributed a receiving touchdown this season. Wilson has 150 yards on the ground, while the freshman Koch has added 173 yards.
7. Defensively, TJ Phillips leads Mill Valley in tackles with over 11 a game this season, while Tim Thomas leads the team in sacks with five. Phillips chipped in 15 tackles against Piper last year.
In order to win, Piper needs a lot to go right - as any underdog does.
The Pirates have a few things going for them. First, they have quick players in special teams who can break off big returns. Paul Jones is one of the best returners in the KVL and he can take one back all the way. He did in the opening kickoff against Bonner Springs.
Piper has the speed to create some match-up problems, but it's still an uphill battle.
Piper's offensive line will have to improve from two weeks ago against Bonner Springs. Eikenbary was running for his life at times against a good Bonner Springs defensive line.
Mill Valley is a big step up from Bonner Springs, meaning Piper's lines will have to win some battles.
Another aspect Piper has is its coaching staff. I can't reveal "off the record" conversations, but talking to head coach Chris Brindle, I know his staff can adjust on the fly.
Brindle and his coaching staff also do a good job at teaching mental toughness, so it's hard to expect the Pirates to quit. They are a mentally tough team - and that's big at the high school level. Toughness is my favorite characteristic of a team and I know Piper has some toughness in them. The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for that.