GRANT CITY, Mo. — Eleven weeks have gone by and we’re down to the final four teams in the 8-man football playoffs. There have been a lot of good teams who have seen their season come to an end: Stanberry, Southwest Livingston, North Andrew and South Holt/Nodaway-Holt. But with those losses, the cream has risen to the top.
Mound City has had maybe the easiest road as it has whopped every team it has played this season. Worth County has had a pair of losses, but those came to a Stanberry team that was undefeated until the Tigers knocked them out of the playoffs last week and the other to the team they will face in the semifinals.
Pattonsburg has the best player in 8-man and it may not even be close. Quarterback Steven Willhite has accounted for 82 touchdowns and almost 4,000 passing yards this season. Orrick is the final of the four teams and probably the one team that has little-to-no chance of winning a state title.
Worth County came into this season in hopes of defending its state title, and for most of the season, the Tigers looked like the best team in the state. But part of playing in the Grand River Conference is knowing that you will face the state’s best when it comes to 8-man football.
The Tigers averaged 62 points through the first six weeks of the season and their defense was holding teams to just 12 points a game. But in their seventh game of the season they faced a Pattonsburg offense that has mostly been unstoppable and they lost 62-42.
“Defensively they wore down our team, so offensively by the time we got the ball on offense we were exhausted,” Worth County coach Chris Healy said.
It appeared as though the Tigers had found their rhythm with a 60-14 win over North Andrew the next week, but then were defeated once again the next week by an undefeated Stanberry team, 30-22. Worth County started the playoffs the next week by destroying East Atchison, 66-14. The Tigers then had a chance to get their revenge with another trip to Stanberry last Friday. The Tigers did just that, holding the Bulldog offense to just two touchdowns in a 32-20 win. They will get an opportunity to avenge their loss to Pattonsburg this week and hope that the confidence they gained last week will carry over into Saturday’s game.
“As coaches we are more confident because we know the kids have done it before,” Healy said. “But I think the kids have to be more confident because they’ve been in that situation.”
The Tigers will rely on a strong running game to move the football and to keep the high-powered Panther offense on the sidelines. Last week, Worth County rushed for more than 250 yards in its win over Stanberry and much of that came from Caleb Parman and Andrew Alarcon. Parman leads the team with 1,574 rushing yards and Alarcon is second with 676 yards.
“Last week we simplified the offense a little bit and tried to possess the ball and get down hill a little bit,” Healy said. “I think it’ll be similar this week and anytime we can keep the ball a little bit longer we might be a little slower in calling plays. We may be a little conservative in what we do, but I don’t think it’ll change a lot.”
The Pattonsburg Panthers will bring in an offense that is averaging 66 points per game. Quarterback Steven Willhite has thrown and eye-popping 70 passing touchdowns this season for a total of 3,990 yards. Willhite also leads the team with 375 rushing yards and another 12 touchdowns. He has done all this in his first year as a starter.
“He’s got everything you want in a quarterback, he’s 6’2” and about 190 pounds and he’s good enough with his feet to hurt you,” Pattonsburg coach Chase Roberts said. “You know he can throw the ball a country mile, I’ve seen some kids at the college level and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a kid that has such a tight spiral.”
The Panthers started the season with four-straight wins over St. Joseph Christian, Braymer, North Andrew and King City. North Andrew and King City combined for 13 wins this season and Pattonsburg hung 76 points on each of them.
If there is a weakness for the Panthers, it’s their defense and that really showed in week 5 in an 84-46 loss at Stanberry.
“In that game we got hit in the mouth by a good Stanberry team,” Roberts said. “But the biggest thing they did was hit us in the mouth both offensively and defensively. We physically just got whipped and they were just tougher than us that night.”
They bounced back with a 60-8 win over Norborne before traveling to Worth County to face the Tigers. Willhite had his way with the Worth County defense; passing for 365 yards and rushing for another 122. Willhite finished the game with nine touchdowns (five passing and four rushing). The defense did have its struggles in stopping the Worth County offense. The Tigers rushed for 194 yards and passed for 159.
Since that game, the Panthers have steam-rolled their way to the semifinals. The defense has allowed just 60 points over their last four contests and the offense has put up: 66, 68, 66 and 82.
“The last six weeks we have been the more physical team and when you’re more physical and tougher, you’re going to win a lot of games,” Roberts said.
Last week, the Panthers held a Southwest Livingston team that was averaging 56 points per game to just 28. What makes their defensive efforts over the last month and half even more impressive is that they kick an onside kick every time they kickoff.
“Our kids have a ton of respect for Worth County and it is going to take a whale of a game for us to go up there and beat them on their home field twice,” Roberts said.
Prediction: Pattonsburg 52, Worth County 42
Orrick at Mound City
Orrick did not play a playoff team this entire season and has losses to St. Joseph Christian and North Shelby on its resume. The only hope for the Bearcats is that their offense can continue to play as it has the past two weeks.
Orrick has scored 148 points during its two-game winning streak. Running back Seth McAfee has rushed for 1,938 and 34 touchdowns this season. It will take a monster game from him and freshman running back Blake Buchanan (1,145 rushing yards) to pull off what would be a major upset.
The Panthers will just have to do what they do best: run the ball and play defense.
The Panthers have not faced the toughest of opponents this season, but it is still impressive that they have allowed just 114 points all year.
Mound City is coming off of a dominating 68-28 win over North Andrew.
Prediction: Mound City 56, Orrick 24