by Michael Smith
Grain Valley head football coach David Allie noted that it’s hard to beat a team twice.
That’s exactly what his team will have to do if they want to advance to the Class 5 quarterfinals for the second consecutive year as the Eagles will take on Raytown in the District 7 final at 7 p.m. Friday at Moody Murray Memorial Field.
“It’s going to be a war,” Allie said. “Both teams are going to go after each other. We got them in the regular season, and they are going to have that in the back of their minds. This will be the fourth time we’ve played each other in two years. We are familiar with each other.”
Grain Valley comes into the contest with a 7-3 record as it dispatched of Sedalia Smith-Cotton 47-3 in the semifinals last week. The Blue Jays defeated Belton in the other semifinal 52-23 to set up the matchup.
The offense has been solid overall for the Eagles as they have averaged 24.9 points per game. Their defense has been the bread and butter of the team and has been a big part of the team’s successful season, holding opponents to just 17.3 points per game.
For Raytown, the offense has been explosive for the most part, averaging 34.3 points per game. Like Grain Valley, its defense has also been very good, limiting opponents to 16.1 points per contest.
The Blue Jays second lowest point total of the season came against Grain Valley in a 21-14 loss at Moody Murray Memorial Field. In that one, Grain Valley held Raytown to just 219 yards of total offense and forced one turnover.
Quarterback Nate Whitebear leads the offense for Raytown. He is a mobile quarterback who can also throw the ball well. Against the Eagles, he completed 12 of 22 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. He’s a dual threat that will make the Grain Valley defense have to account for him in the running game.
Running back Zhamari Gary has been really good for Raytown. Against Belton, he exploded for 300 yards on 24 carries and had five touchdowns. Against Grain Valley, he was limited to just 65 yards on 25 carries. He’s someone the Eagles will have to focus on stopping, but as well as they have played on that side of the ball this season, they seem more than capable.
“They are really good athletes and they are a run heavy team,” Grain Valley senior cornerback Tristin Pouncil said. “We know how they like to play and we have a gameplan.”
Added Allie: “(Gary) is a dude. He runs the ball hard and he’s fast. He’s a physical kid and he can get you with his speed. We have to stop the run and that will be a monumental task to stop (Gary and Whitebear).”
Pouncil has been a key player for Grain Valley and likes taking on the challenge of covering the other team’s best receiver. On Friday, he will match up often with Raytown’s No. 1 receiver Jordyn Robinson.
“I personally love matchups like that,” Pouncil said. “I like going against the best receiver. I just want to prove I am better than you. I have to let my game talk.”
On offense, Allie said it will be important to get the run game going, which is led by quarterback Caleb Larson, who has thrived in running run-pass option plays. Raytown is a team with a lot of speed on defense, so running downhill will be pivotal for the Eagles.
“Raytown is very quick laterally, so we won’t have many opportunities to move east to west,” Grain Valley sophomore wide receiver Anthony Greco said. “We have to get vertical almost every play.”
“Their secondary is really solid and their linemen are good, too. They are physical and they don’t have very many weak spots. We have to play physically and fast.”
“The Blue Jays have some size up front,” Allie said. That will present a challenge for an Eagles offensive line that has been hampered by injuries for most of the season.
“Our offense has been consistent, especially more recently,” Allie said. “We’ve been able to sustain drives and keep our defense off the field. Our offensive line has had some challenges with some injuries. The coaching staff has done a good job getting those kids in the right position. We haven’t had our starting offensive line four the last four to five weeks.”
The winner of the district will advance to the quarterfinals to play the winner of Fort Osage and Platte County.
“Those are two teams that we have a lot of history with,” Allie said. “Playing either one of those teams would be great. We have to take care of business Friday.”