Pioneers could enhance playoff positioning with win

The postseason may technically be two weeks away for Class 6A-5A schools and three weeks away for the rest, but for all intents and purposes, the playoffs start Friday for the Leavenworth High Pioneers.

Coming off of last week’s 17-7 homecoming win over Shawnee Mission North, the Pioneers will play host to their final opponent at Pioneer Stadium – at least in the regular season – when they take on another beatable opponent, Olathe South (1-5), Friday at 7 p.m.

The Pioneers, ranked ninth in the Class 5A East regional rankings, are just one spot outside of hosting a playoff game. They have already secured no worse than the 12th seed as they take on South in the Leavenworth Times’ Game of the Week.

Leavenworth (3-3) ended a three-game slide with the win over SMN.

Now, against South, another opportunity presents itself for a potential win against the Sunflower League in the most important third of the season.

“I always like to break the season down into thirds,” Pioneer head coach Mark Littrell said. “The first third of the season is to evaluate our players and our schemes on both offense and defense. The second third of the season is where we try to really refine and reinforce our system and our schemes. The last third of the regular season is to really get us to jell and to get ready for the playoffs.

“We just need to continue to improve and stay healthy going into Week 9 in the 5A district game.”

The win against North was key for that goal and now Leavenworth faces an Olathe South team that may be underdogs on paper but are dangerous.

“It was a great win for our program to get us back on the winning track and to a 3-3 record,” Littrell said. “Olathe South is another Sunflower League opponent that is physical on both sides of the football. We must ignore their record because that does not reflect on how good a team they are.  

“We are actually getting better on our offensive line. We need to continue to improve on all three phases of football, like our defense, which continued to make plays against SMN.”

Turner (2-4) at Lansing (1-5), 7 p.m.

Ranked 13th in the Class 5A East, not being able to finish higher than seventh and needing to avoid another loss to be eliminated from any hope of hosting a playoff game in two weeks, the Lansing Lions have a golden opportunity to get things rolling Friday night.

As the Lions celebrate their seniors on the final home date of the season, they will aim to leapfrog one of the teams in front of them, Turner, when the two teams square off at 7 p.m.

“Week seven is huge for us,” Lansing head coach John McCall said. “It is senior night and a home game, so we want to have a great showing for all in attendance. We continue to strive for the complete game from all three units. We also need to climb in the ratings as playoff time is close at hand.   

“Our boys are close. They know this and can’t wait to play Friday. Our concerns at this point are simply getting the team over the mountain and getting back on the winning track. It’s that simple.”

A strong showing in a 21-13 loss last week at Basehor-Linwood helped push the team forward, but they will need to make sure to keep getting more from the Lions’ offense.

“Last week was another competitive one-score ball game,” McCall said. “I was very proud of our team’s efforts and attitudes throughout the game, and especially how they executed and handled halftime adjustments.   

“Offensively, our completion percentages and passing yards per game are increasing. This increase in production will help in the balance of the offense, netting us additional rushing yards. The players are responding in a very positive manner to all the adjustments that are being thrown at them. We are excited for this week’s matchup versus Turner.”

Basehor-Linwood (5-1) at Piper (3-3), 7 p.m.

Class 4A-I District I play begins Friday night as the Bobcats travel to Piper to take on the Pirates.

With Tonganoxie (6-0) opening against Atchison (4-2), the beginning of three weeks of battle among four teams that went a combined 18-6 in non-district play, with two state playoff bids up for grabs, will be key in getting off to a good start.

“We are entering into a very solid district. The only district in the state without a team with a losing record in it is 4A-I,” BLHS head coach Rod Stallbaumer said. “We will need to have very focused practices and must bring our ‘A’ game each week to have success.

“Piper is a good football team. They replaced a lot of key guys from last season and so were fairly young to start the season. You can see on film that they have improved a lot as the season has progressed. They will have the biggest offensive and defensive lines we have faced all season and have a lot of speed in the backfield. They run a lot of option plays and trap plays that will force our defense to be assignment and gap sound.”

Piper has won three straight heading into this contest. The Bobcats bounced back from their first regular season loss in almost two full years two weeks ago with a 21-13 win over Lansing last week. Piper and BLHS are both 3-1 against common opponents with a loss each to Bonner Springs and wins over Lansing, Bishop Ward and Turner.

Now, the Bobcats aim to start a new winning streak against a dangerous Piper team.    

“I felt like we returned to playing physical football last week,” Stallbaumer said. “We still made far too many mistakes in regards to assignment discipline and ball security but I was pleased with the effort of our players. Overall, I think it was a step in the right direction heading into district play.  

“I think that we have improved as far as being physical. Offensively we must improve our execution this week. I don't feel we have really had a good game this season as far as overall execution offensively. Defensively we need to get our swagger back. Guys have been playing hard but have been over-thinking some and need to get back to reading their keys and being aggressive.”     

Pleasant Ridge (2-4) at Maur Hill-Mount Academy (4-2), 7 p.m.

Coming off of a 22-16 win over Oskaloosa a week ago can only help the Pleasant Ridge mojo as the Rams prepare to open Class 3A District 2 play when they travel to Atchison to face MH-MA.

It could be the de facto league title again as this matchup has decided the district winner in the past few years, including last year’s sublime and heartbreaking 28-24 loss to Maur Hill in Easton in the game’s waning seconds.

Both teams cruised after that game in Week 7 to two wins in district play and qualified for the state playoffs.

Pleasant Ridge hopes to wrestle that title back.

“Last week we played very tough and ground out a win,” Rams’ head coach Patrick McCollim said. “I was very, very proud of the heart the boys played with and their ability to react positively to negative moments in the game, something that has been a major issue all year. Although we are fighting through lots of injuries at the moment, as most teams are, we have had multiple kids step up and fill varsity roles well. We have improved a great deal the last three weeks and are hoping we can continue that into district play.  

“We have improved everywhere, but I would have to say the six freshmen we have playing varsity have really adjusted well the last few weeks.”  

The coach is well aware of what his team will face Friday.

“Maur Hill is a very talented team,” McCollim said. “They have multiple threats on offense and play very solid defense. We will have to be very disciplined in each player doing their job to the best of their ability to be successful.  

“We are still having way too many penalties. We stopped ourselves from scoring twice last week and we must get that cleaned up to make the postseason.”