by Cody Thorn
Grain Valley coach David Allie will be going back to the proverbial drawing board after Week 1.
The Eagles struggled on offensive and defense in a 42-3 loss to Smithville on Friday at Moody Murry Memorial Stadium. The loss snapped a five-year streak of winning the first game of the season.
The new-look Eagles, with only a handful of starters back from last year’s quarterfinal run, had mistakes compound one another on the first drive – perhaps an omen of a rocky road ahead in this game between former divisional rivals.
“We couldn’t get out of our own way, that is one thing with inexperience, you can’t commit unforced errors and we did that,” Allie said. “That was one goal we have that wasn’t accomplished.”
The first play of the game the Eagles bit into the cadences of Smithville quarterback Andrew Hedgecorth and gave them five yards. After Hedgecorth threw a rare incomplete pass – he was 15 for 18 – the Eagles were called for an unsportsmanlike penalty after the play.
That set the tone for a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Hedgecorth scoring on a keeper.
Grain Valley’s offense then went three-and-out and Smithville scored again, making it 14-0. Hedgecorth hit Sam Calvert for a 38-yard gain on the first play of the drive and later threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Keltin Nitsche.
The Eagles had yet another three-and-out, essentially, though this drive was four plays after an offsides penalty on a lineman to open the drive. That negated what was a 6-yard run by quarterback Caleb Larson.
Two incomplete passes were sandwiched around a run for zero yards on a drive that ended on a punt from the end zone. However, Austin Schmitt booted the ball and it rolled all the way to the Smithville 19.
“We got behind the chains and got predictable,” Allie said.
The Eagles looked to have forced a three-and-out but then another penalty aided Smithville. A roughing the punter penalty gave Smithville more plays that led to another touchdown.
“They are explosive and they got a lot of speed but they got a lot of new players,” Smithville coach Jason Ambroson said. “We wanted to put pressure on them and get ahead. They gave us the ball and we made a couple big plays on the first drive. That allowed us to get in a rhythm and score and we got the second score and our kids were like ‘ok, we know where we are’ and that put pressure on them.”
Grain Valley had the ball twice in the final 1:30 of the first half.
A short gain passing the ball was followed by a holding call that pushed the ball back to the 10-yard line. The next play, linebacker Cody Simoncic then ran back an interception 12 yards for a touchdown, with 23 seconds left, making it 28-0 at halftime.
Grain Valley got its first first down of the game with 7 minutes, 19 seconds left in the third quarter, but after that the next three plays turned into three yards and an incomplete pass, which set up another punt.
The Hedgecorth to Nitsche connection had their biggest play midway through the third quarter. Grain Valley had punted and pinned the Warriors at their own 11-yard line. Facing a 3rd-and-6 from the 16, Nitsche ran a slant route in the middle of the field and caught it. He then just out ran every defender, making a few cuts to avoid a tackle.
Eighty-four yards later he was in the end zone and the lead had expanded to 35-0, just outside of turbo clock territory.
“We had a little experience at cornerback and they found it and attacked it,” Allie said.
The only points for the home team came in the fourth quarter when Schmitt booted a 35-yard field goal. That scoring drive was keyed by a 56-yard pass from Larson to Keagan Hart. That moved the ball to the 12-yard line, but a penalty followed pushed the Eagles back.
“It felt good, it was a good hold and a good snap and the team blocked good for me,” Schmitt said. “I’m glad I could put it in. I was just ready to go out there and put points up.”
During kickoffs, Schmitt sailed every kick out of bounds and gave the Warriors the ball at the 20-yard line each time.
“He has a leg and he is coming onto the scene,” Allie said.
Hedgecorth added a 4-yard keeper to account for the final points. Hedgecorth passed for 198 yards (15 of 18) and added 100 yards on the ground on five carries.
The game was a big reversal from last year when the Warriors lost the opener, 34-24 — one of only two regular season losses last year. Smithville finished with 369 yards of total offense and limited Grain Valley to 103 — 56 of those coming on a pass play in the fourth quarter.
“We showed a lot of heart and stayed in the game and kept fighting no matter what,” Allie said.
The Eagles travel to north Kansas City next week to face Oak Park, which is coming off a 42-21 loss to Lee’s Summit in Week 1.
“Based on what we saw in the jamboree we didn’t expect this,” Allie said. “We played like we were inexperienced and we beat ourselves quite a bit.”
A young Eagles team runs onto the field at the start of their week one matchup against Smithville.
Photo credit: John Overstreet
A gang of Eagles tackle a Warrior opponent. Photo credit: Cody Thorn
Quarterback Caleb Larson attempts a pass in the second quarter.
Photo credit: Cody Thorn