With just one more victory, the Eudora High football team can make history tonight.
The Cardinals have never played for a state championship, but as one of four teams still alive in the Class 4A playoffs, they have the chance to advance to their first title game with a home win against Paola (7 p.m. kickoff).
EHS coach Gregg Webb said the program is in the state semifinals for the first time since 2002, when Eudora lost to Fort Scott and he was still the coach at Claflin. So to call it a big game would be an understatement — school officials are bringing in extra bleachers for the showdown between the two 11-1 Frontier League teams.
Winners of 10 straight, the Cardinals beat PHS in the regular season, 18-10, on Sept. 30. Webb said the key to that victory was Eudora’s ability to hold on to the ball and sustain long drives that kept the Panthers’ offensive ball carriers on the sideline.
“Their offense is difficult to control because it’s a smash-mouth kind of a game, where your defensive line has to be men up front to stop them from just knocking you off the football, back into your linebackers,” Webb said of Paola’s veer offensive attack, which has helped PHS average 40.8 points a game.
Paola rushed for 379 yards in its most recent victory, against Blue Valley Southwest, and Webb knows the Panthers won’t be easy to stop.
“We were the only team to beat them,” he said. “Now trying to do it twice is gonna be an even more daunting task.”
The coach, who led Claflin to nine state-title games and five championships in his 15 years at the helm, said the play of Eudora’s starting defensive ends — junior Nick Becker and senior Jared Ireland — will be a significant factor in the team’s success. Webb said if the two ends can contain Paola’s runs and safeties Derek Webb and Andrew Ballock can come up and help, that would help the EHS defense (which has allowed just 10.7 points a game) limit Paola’s ability to pound the ball.
Offensively, Eudora also takes a run-first approach. The Cardinals have amassed 3,827 rushing yards this year.
Senior running back Chris Pyle (11 rushing touchdowns) leads the team with 1,724 yards and senior quarterback Derek Webb has run for 1,028 yards and a team-best 14 touchdowns. Not too far behind him is junior running back Gabe Cleveland, with 965 yards and 12 touchdowns. They run primarily behind offensive linemen Becker, Ireland and senior Greg Snell, whom Coach Webb described as one of the best EHS has had in his tenure.
Despite having just 41 players on the roster and dealing with some injuries, Eudora’s coach said the Cardinals have made it work.
“We somehow pieced together a pretty good year,” Webb said, “and hopefully we’ll continue that (today) and play well.”