OREGON, Mo. — The South Holt/Nodaway-Holt Spartans and the North Andrew Cardinals are familiar with one another, but the matchup has been heavily one-sided in previous years. It has been more than a decade since the Spartans’ last win against North Andrew.
It has been an up and down season for the kids from Oregon and Graham. The Spartans started the season against three powers in 8-man football in Worth County, Southwest Livingston and East Atchison. Those three teams are a combined 22-6 this season. The team then went on to win three in a row and as North Andrew head coach Dwayne Williams points out, they’re not the same team.
“You can tell the things they have been working on all season, they’re just better at it,” Williams said. “We have some film on them from their first game at Worth County and now they just don’t even look like the same team.”
South Holt/Nodaway-Holt then faced undefeated Mound City and for a little more than two quarters, they had the Panthers on the ropes. But an injury to quarterback Drew Quinlin in the second half left the door open for Mound City to end up pounding the Spartans and that led to a loss in Rock Port. With a healthy quarterback and an explosive offense, the Spartans have more confidence than they’ve had in years passed heading into their matchup this Friday.
“From the previous years, we really want to come out and win this one,” Spartan senior Reagan Morris said. “This year we’ve got everything clicking, from our line to our receivers to our backs and from what I’ve seen on film I think we’ll take it to them.”
The Spartans have won two-straight heading into their district semifinal game, defeating North Nodaway/West Nodaway and Platte Valley — outscoring their two opponents 116-22. The offense has averaged 43 points per game this season and playing in this scheme has been fun for the players — even the linemen.
“It’s amazing how much fun you can have while playing, it’s something I’m really going to miss,” Spartan center Dalton Rauch said.
This South Holt/Nodaway-Holt team leans heavily on their seniors, especially Morris and Eric Ottman, but coach Josh Petersen believes that one of the main differences between this year’s team and previous teams is some of its newer players.
“Most of the guys on this team are freshman and sophomores who didn’t have a major role in the team over the last few years,” Petersen said. “Now they’re stepping into it and they know the taste that was left in our mouths from the previous three years and they kind of want to avenge those losses.”
The Spartans will rely heavily on Morris and Ottman who have combined to catch 117 passes for 2,075 yards and 36 touchdowns. Quinlin has passed for 2,540 yards and 44 touchdowns, but an area that could play a major role is their running game. Running back Taran Clark is averaging 82 yards per game, with Quinlin adding another 301 yards this season.
The North Andrew Cardinals come into this matchup with a 5-4 record. The Cardinals have had their struggles throughout the season, but a lot of those struggles came against some of the best teams in the state. They opened the season with a 40-8 loss to King City, bounced back with a win against St. Joseph Christian and then lost to Pattonsburg in a game where the two teams combined to score 128 points.
North Andrew fattened up with wins over Osceola and Chilhowee before facing the state’s No. 1 team, Stanberry. The Cardinals lost that game 44-36, but again bounced back with a win over Albany. The Grand River Conference is home to some of the biggest juggernauts in 8-man and facing some of that competition during the regular season could help the Cardinals this postseason.
“The schedule is tough and everybody in the GRC plays a tough one,” Williams said. “This week we’re facing South Holt/Nodaway-Holt and having played Pattonsburg is going to help us.”
North Andrew was humbled a little bit in week 8 in a 60-14 loss to Worth County. They came back the next week and beat a winless Braymer team by 70 points.
The Cardinals’ offense is what you may consider a prototypical 8-man offense. They throw the ball very little, but they have a backfield loaded with talent. Quarterback Jaden Baker is not just a passer when they need it, but he is also the team’s leading rusher. Baker has rushed for 955 yards this season and is averaging 106 yards per game. South Holt/Nodaway-Holt knows that in order to get to the district championship, they’re going to have to be better against the run.
“They’re going to run the ball and they’re going to run the ball hard,” Spartan lineman Treyton Plummer said. “As long as we can tackle, they don’t scare me, but they’re going to want to win.”
North Andrew also has two very talented running backs in Logan Hughes and Ryan Wilmes. Wilmes has rushed for 699 yards this season, while Hughes has added another 807. Combined the Cardinals average 285 rushing yards per game.
“We said from day one that we don’t want to be a one-man show and we’ve focused on that from day one,” Williams said. “Those three give us a lot of diversity that most teams are fortunate enough to have.”
The Cardinals’ running game will be key in their effort to win on Friday.
“We have to control the ball, they’re aggressive in their passing game and that’s hard to do if we control the ball,” Williams said.
For either team to be victorious they will have to play to their strengths. North Andrew will have to find a way to slow down the air show that the Spartans put on every Friday and on the other side, the Spartans will have to find a way to slow down a team that has talent every where in the backfield. Petersen knows what his team is up against, but he also has a lot of faith in his team’s talent.
“We’ll do some things to slow them down,” Petersen said. “But I could ask them that same question, how are they going to stop us?”