by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley football team got a stiff test one week before the regular season begins.
In Friday’s preseason jamboree, the Eagles got to face off against two Class 6 schools in Lee’s Summit and last year’s state runner-up Liberty North.
Facing that competition, even in a scrimmage atmosphere, could prove to be valuable for Grain Valley.
It will take on defending Suburban White Conference champion Fort Osage, who knocked the Eagles out of the playoff in the Class 5 state quarterfinals last season in a 35-0 victory, at 7:00pm next Friday in the season opener at Fort Osage High School.
“It should be a knockdown, drag out,” Grain Valley head coach David Allie said.
Even against stiff competition, the Eagles held their own as they showed flashes of brilliance on offense and defense at Lee’s Summit High School.
In the jamboree, the teams rotated between offense and defense. It began with each team running eight plays on offense and defense against both opposing teams, with possessions starting from the offense’s 30-yard line. After that, each team ran five to eight plays starting from the defense’s 20-yard line.
“It was good competition. It gave us some work,” junior linebacker Cole Elliott said. “I think we did a good job against some good schools.”
On defense, the Eagles surrendered three total touchdowns. Lee’s Summit scored one when starting from the Grain Valley’s 20-yard line on a 15-yard pass. Liberty North scored two. One from Grain Valley’s 20 and the other from its own 30.
On Liberty North’s first offensive play from the 30, Liberty North when all-state quarterback Sam Van Dyne hit a wide-open Xavier Horn on a 70-yard bomb on a play action pass. The Eagles held Liberty North out of the end zone on the ensuing seven plays.
“In the secondary, we need to work on reading the guards, tackles and tight ends better,” senior safety Keagan Hart said. “Overall, I think we played fine tonight. We came out aggressive.”
Before that, the Eagles limited Lee’s Summit to just one first down on eight plays on drives that started at the 30. One play stood out in particular when Elliott tackled a Tiger ball carrier on a screen pass for a 2-yard loss.
“I got my reads, and I went down and made the hit,” Elliott said.
Allie also noted that defensive end Jake Allen was a bright spot on defense as he made things tough for opposing offensive tackles.
“Jake Allen had a motor and I think there were a couple of times on the edge where he was held,” Allie said. “They didn’t call it. He is forcing some pretty good offensive linemen to resort to cheating.”
Added Hart: “Brody (Baker) did well. He always comes down and makes plays. Our D line was good, and they always made plays.”
On offense, the Eagles were solid in the running game. Senior quarterback Caleb Larson gained 14 yards on two carries, senior running back Christian Lanear had eight yards on two carries and sophomore DJ Harris five carries for 22 yards.
On the Eagles’ lone touchdown, on a possession that started from the Liberty North 20. Harris had strong runs of 12 and 7, which set up Larson’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Hart on a play-action pass.
“I thought they performed great,” Hart said of the running backs. “It’s hard when you’re just going against each other in practice until this point. It’s really nice to go up against someone
else and see new competition. I think those guys hit the holes hard and followed their blockers.”
In the passing game, Olah was able to show what he could do. He consistently created separation against opposing cornerbacks and had three catches for 35 yards. One catch included a 18-yard catch-and-run following a sidearm throw from Larson. However, Olah fumbled right before the goal line and Lee’s Summit recovered the ball.
“On the 18-yard gain, we had the defense beat on the fade, but there was too much pressure on Caleb so he couldn’t step into the throw,” Allie said. “He made a nice move but unfortunately lost the ball.”
The play was one of three turnovers Grain Valley committed, which included two interceptions by Larson. That is something Allie said he wants to get cleaned up before next Friday.
“We can’t do that,” Allie noted. “It doesn’t matter what we do … there were bright spots, but we can’t give them more opportunities to have the ball, especially one near the end zone. On the pick against Lee’s Summit, Caleb tried to do too much. We are hopefully getting that out of our system.”
Grain Valley senior quarterback Caleb Larson drops back to pass against Lee's Summit during Friday's preseason jamboree at Lee's Summit High School. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Junior Grain Valley quarterback Brek Sloan warms up on the sideline. Photo credit: Michael Smith