When the South Eagles and Southwest Grizzlies faced off Sunday at Youth Sports Inc., the battle on the gridiron wasn't just for first place in the seventh-grade division.
It was a little more personal than that. Several players from both squads were all teammates last year for the sixth-grade Gorillas.
Windy conditions forced both teams to utilize their running games, but when the clock expired it was Southwest which prevailed with a 20-0 victory.
"The offensive line did a great job opening up holes for the running game." Southwest coach Eric Barkley said. "The boys work hard in practice, and it makes it easy when it comes to the game because the boys know their assignments."
South won the toss and started on their 40-yard line. Adam Taylor and Jonathan Pederson carried the ball for South, which couldn't convert on the fourth down because Jordan Parsons came up with a big stop for the Grizzlies.
On the Grizzlies' first play from scrimmage, Cody Oller broke off a 60-yard run, taking the ball to the 17-yard line. Southwest's Matt Cole rushed forward for a couple of yards after getting a handoff from SW quarterback Alec Heline, before Oller took the ball to the five. But two South stuffs set up a fourth-and-goal situation.
No problem for Heline, though, who this time went to the air and connected with Evan Manning for a seven-yard touchdown pass. Cole couldn't nail down the conversion so with just over a minute left in the first Southwest led 6-0.
The second quarter proved to be a defensive battle when both teams traded turnovers.
Grizzly Zach Pence forced South's second fumble, but Southwest coughed the ball right back and South's Pederson was there to recover the pigskin.
At the half South was still only down six, but Southwest's running game exploded in the third quarter.
Oller added another 60-yard run, this time for a touchdown, and Southwest took a 14-0 lead when Heline hit Oller on the two-point conversion pass.
Then it was time for Southwest's defense and special teams to step up.
Pence sacked South's quarterback to set up a punt, which Cole blocked and then recovered the ball at the 18-yard line.
Oller quickly added his second rushing score of the afternoon. South's Chris Gaston stopped the conversion, but with just under three minutes left in the third quarter, the Grizzlies clearly held control with a 20-0 lead.
The Grizzlies defense again stopped the Eagles, but a costly roughing the kicker penalty gave South a first down and a new scoring opportunity.
But a couple of plays later a scary moment occurred when a Grizzly was injured and had be to carried off on a stretcher. Precautionary measures were taken when an ambulance was called to the scene. The player was taken to the hospital as a precaution, and Coach Barkley said the injury was not serious.
With 4:39 left, the referees decided to let the game clock run continuously for the remainder of the game, where both teams traded defensive stops.
Coach Barkley attributed the victory to a strong defensive performance.
"We work hard on defense in practice," he said. "Repetition in practice helps the kids know what they need to do in game situations. Since we have 43 kids on the team we are able to scrimmage in practice to create game-like situations."
South coach Willie Brown said he knows after his 10 years in the league that every year there is going to be one game where his team comes unprepared and
Sunday was that day.
"Our team will bounce back from the loss," Brown said. "The guys are strong-minded and will use this game as a learning tool to realize what not to do next time and not make the same mistakes in the future."
In a few years many of these boys might be suiting up for Lawrence High School and could be once again playing on the same team. But both Cole and Oller said regardless of whether or not they are teammates or opponents their friendship won't diminish.