Pioneering to victory: LVHS seeks 3-0 start

It’s happening.

The Leavenworth High football team is beginning to make a statement in its final year of Sunflower League play and also may be en route to becoming a postseason threat if form holds true.

Buoyed by camaraderie and a desire to prove detractors wrong, the Pioneers (2-0) have already eclipsed last year’s win total and could be up for many more victories, beginning with another potential triumph Friday night when they take on a talented North Kansas City team at 7 p.m. at Pioneer Stadium in the Leavenworth Times’ Game of the Week.

“North Kansas City is a very good football team despite their 0-4 record,” LVHS head coach Mark Littrell said. “They have lost to some really good football teams on the Missouri side. Missouri is further ahead of Kansas schools with the contact days that they are allowed during the summer and the fact that they are three weeks ahead of us. NKC runs an option scheme out of the shotgun formation and can be very effective. Their defensive front is another strength of their team and will constantly bring a lot of pressure from various gaps.”

Defense has been the key for the Pioneers, winning 13-6 at Lansing in week one and 16-14 last week against Sunflower roomies Shawnee Mission West.

Now they begin the home portion of the slate with four of the last six regular season games to be played in the cozy confines of Pioneer Stadium.

“Our defense has really stepped up these past two games,” Littrell said. “We had a feeling that we could have a good defense, but these players have stepped up time and time again in crucial situations. Now our offense must step up and put together some better drives and be more consistent.

“I really thought that if we played well we had a chance to win these first two games. We must move forward and focus on opponent No. 3”

Senior outside linebacker Gabe Casmus says the team has united to stand up against those who would try to keep them down.

“This year we are the most motivated we have ever been and we are the tightest we have ever been as a family, pushing each other to work harder,” Casmus said. “Past years, there was less of an emphasis on team. … I feel like that in itself pushes us to work harder for one another. 

“(There have been detractors) every year I’ve been here and it just makes us tired of it. It pushes us to keep working and prove them wrong. It feels great.”

The Pioneer offense will need to pick it up and junior quarterback Robert McKinley believes that time is now.

“The defense is definitely doing its job and I feel like they deserve the credit for the first two wins and now we have to step it up,” McKinley said. “Especially when we play better teams, we can’t rely just on our defense. We need to get to the next level. We are mediocre doing our job, but we aren’t doing our job, because our job is to score 40 and getting the defense off the field.”

“As long as our offense scores some points and gives us breaks, that’s all we can ask for,” Casmus said. “There is work to do on both sides of the ball.”

If they continue to improve, Leavenworth can realistically entertain thoughts of a 3-0 start to the campaign.

“(3-0) is important, but we want to be undefeated for the season,” McKinley said. “It would great because we have high morale and momentum and we want to keep it going.”

Shawnee Mission North (0-2) at Lansing (1-1), 7 p.m.

Losing do-everything quarterback Will Schneider has taken a toll on North, which has struggled out of the gate in 2017.

Lansing hopes to use that to its advantage and ride a bit of momentum coming out of a 67-0 rout of Bishop Ward a week ago.

“SMN is very athletic in all three phases of the game,” Lansing head coach John McCall said. “We are concerned with the one-on-ones they will create offensively. They close to the ball very quickly on defense and they have dynamic returners. The only weakness we can find on film is that they are inexperienced at a certain position because that player played a different position last year. They are 60-40 pass to run. How well we defend the run will be a key to the outcome of this game.”

Since the loss to Leavenworth two weeks ago, the Lions have taken the necessary steps toward preparing for a key game like this one.

“Our players have improved defensive communication from where we began this fall,” McCall said. “This will allow us to be more multiple and specific with down and distance situations. We must see a higher level of execution from the offensive side of the ball. This week will be a great opportunity for our players to have that great focus on the offensive side.

“We have been pleased with the production from our defensive line. This has allowed all three levels of our defense to be productive in game situations.   “Contributions from both defensive tackles and defensive ends have taken pressure off of our second and third levels.”

Lansing beat a team known for getting rolled up when it took down Bishop Ward, but any positive experience is a good one.

“Week two helped us since we were able to play many of our kids,” McCall said. “This gives them valuable game experience and allows us to enter week three very healthy.”  

Basehor-Linwood (2-0) at Turner (1-1), 7 p.m.

The Bobcats of Basehor-Linwood hope to continue a hot run of play to start the new season in Kansas City on Friday night when they travel to Turner.

BLHS comes off back-to-back shutout wins heading into a contest against a Turner squad that is coming off a 28-6 win over a mediocre KC Washington squad.

“Turner is very athletic, their D-line is strong and aggressive, they have a very solid linebacking corps that is very active and they send them often, putting a lot of pressure on you defensively,” BLHS head coach Rod Stallbaumer said. “Offensively, they have a kid at tailback that is one of the best athletes in the (Kaw Valley League). If we are not sound in our run splits and our pursuit angles, he is capable of taking any play to the house. Their starting quarterback was out last week which made them a little one dimensional offensively. Turner has also returned a kickoff for a touchdown three years in a row against us so we are focused on being sound in the special teams as well this week.”

The Bobcats come in off of a 38-0 road win at Spring Hill that was a good early season test.

“We will need to improve a lot from that game to be able to beat the teams that we will need to later in the season to have the kind of success we want to have but the Spring Hill game was a good starting point,” Stallbaumer said. “Last week was much like a game one for us so it's hard to identify a lot of areas of improvement from week one. We are hoping to see a big improvement this week in a lot of areas. We need to improve our ball security. We had four turnovers last week so that is a concern. Another area that we hope to see improvement in is our passing game. We had several dropped passes that stalled out drives and hope to see a little better rhythm in the passing game this week.”

So far, a 2-0 record and a point-differential of plus-110 would lead to plenty of superlatives.

“I have been very pleased with our defense up to this point, Stallbaumer said. “They have been aggressive and disciplined to start the season. With as many returners as we had, we were hoping that they would be the strength of the team, especially early on, and they have not disappointed.   We feel like our offensive line is progressing nicely. We still have some communication issues to clean up but that should come as they get more experience playing together as a unit.”

Pleasant Ridge (0-2) at Jefferson County North (2-0)

Two wins via scoring 50 points and giving up only a touchdown per contest makes JCN a formidable test for the Pleasant Ridge Rams.

“They are a very good, experienced team who have scored a lot of points in the first two weeks,” PR head coach Patrick McCollim said. “They have many kids who have been playing for two or three years now and it shows on film. We will have to be disciplined on defense and aggressive on offense to beat these guys.”

Last week, Pleasant Ridge fell 38-6 at home against a top-flight Jackson Heights team, but the coaching staff sees the positives coming from that performance.

“I believe we have improved our fundamentals and assignment discipline throughout the last couple weeks, but we must continue to work on finishing drives and limiting mistakes,” McCollim said. “A big surprise has been the multiple freshmen that we have been playing at the varsity level. It is a big adjustment from middle school football to high school football and although I would prefer to give these young kids more time at the JV level, they have stepped up in positions of need and played well and will just keep getting better if they continue to work hard.”

Pleasant Ridge hopes to overcome the slow start.

“You always worry that the boys will lose confidence in what we are doing when you don't win,” McCollim said. “We all know that we haven't played to our potential and the team has continued to work hard in practice.”