by Michael Smith
Grain Valley starting quarterback Caleb Larson has been able to rest on the sidelines the past two games with no worries.
While he wants to play, he doesn’t mind it.
Before Friday’s Suburban White Conference matchup with William Chrisman, the Eagles have been able to rest their starters and play their backs for the majority of the second half of their last two games as they won their last two games by a combined 76 points.
It was more of the same against the Bears as Grain Valley scored 37 points in the first half en route to a 40-7 blowout at Norman James Field.
The Grain Valley starters played the first series of the second half then got to test midway through the third period. That included Larson, who didn’t have a carry in last week’s 52-20 win over Columbia Hickman.
“I think it’s a good move by Coach (David Allie) to prevent injuries,” Larson said. “I want to play. Football is my passion. When you get pulled out, you get that same feeling.”
“I am not mad about sitting on the sideline. I don’t want all the glory. I want everybody to touch the ball and everyone to get playing time. As long as we are winning, that’s all I care about.”
For Allie, he said the backups being able to play in the last three games will be valuable down the line when they are eventually starting games in the next year or two.
“We like to put the young guys in those situations so they can get some reps,” Grain Valley David Allie said. “Even though we’d put our young guys in, the other teams keep their starters in so our young guys are getting quality reps.”
Larson carried the ball 10 times for 72 yards and two scored. He scored on a 6-yard run on the Eagles’ first drive of the game and on a 10-yard scamper late in the second period.
“I give all the glory to my linemen, they did a great job today,” Larson said. “Offense struggled to start a little bit, but we got it back up and rolling.”
Larson and the offense got a big assist from a Grain Valley defense that has been rolling as of late. In its last six games, the defense has held opposing teams to just 12.6 points per game, which included 13 points from Columbia Hickman that came against the backups last week.
In that span, the Eagles have allowed just 247 yards per game of total offense and have forced 16 turnovers.
On Saturday, junior cornerback Braylon Hardin intercepted Chrisman quarterback Connor Elliott twice and returned them to the Bears 28- and 20-yard lines. The first interception led to a 28-yard TD pass from Larson to Anthony Greco on the first play of the next drive and the latter led to a 30-yard field goal from Austin Schmitt in the fourth quarter.
“It feels amazing,” Hardin said. “I just read his hips, I saw him cut out and I jumped on it real quick and that’s that.”
Grain Valley’s third interception came from senior linebacker Nathan Testa on a ball thrown right to him. He returned it to the Chrisman 25, that set up a Ty Williams TD run on the first play of the ensuing drive with 2 minutes left in the second half.
Not only did the Eagles (6-2, 3-0) have three turnovers, they had a safety at the 10:28 mark in the second period. After they lost a fumble at the Bears 2, senior linebacker Brody Baker tackled Miller in the end zone for a safety on the first play of the drive.
“I think the play calls from Coach (Matt) Curts led to the shutout from our varsity and our defense was in sync the whole time,” junior cornerback Braylon Hardin said.
The offense and defense clicked for the Eagles (6-2), but what about the special teams.
With 6:45 left in the second period, junior safety Gabe Storment found a gap and blocked the punt from Mitchell Cory and senior Jake Allen recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
“We all just rushed at the same time and got there,” said junior defensive tackle Camden Nelson, who had a sack. We got in his face and blocked it. That was great.”
The win was Grain Valley’s fifth in a row and third by 30 points or more. Next week, the Eagles have their biggest game of the season against Raytown at home. The winner of that game will win the Suburban White Conference championship and will earn the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the Class 5 District 7 tournament.
“We lead by points,” Allie said, “but if we lose to them, they would bump us out of the No. 1 spot because of head-to-head competition. We got everything to play for.”
Photo credit: Clara Jaques