For 13 straight weeks, Eudora High football opponents have known what was coming.
The Cardinals take an old-school approach to the gridiron, more suitable for grainy, black-and-white footage than high definition. They are going to run the ball and play hard-nosed defense. They know it. Their opponents know it. And that’s just the way it’s going to be.
As senior quarterback Derek Webb put it: “There’s definitely no secrets about what we’re gonna do.”
To the Cardinals’ credit, it has been a wildly prosperous approach. EHS (12-1) has won 11 straight games, racked up 4,030 rushing yards and held its foes to 10.6 points a game.
Oh, and one more success nugget: At 1 p.m. Saturday, Eudora plays Rose Hill (12-1) at Salina District Stadium for the Class 4A state championship.
To put it mildly, EHS is enjoying the ride. Just ask Cardinals senior lineman Greg Snell.
“It’s the dream senior season,” he said, adding that getting to this point has been the goal every year he has been at Eudora. “It’s all of our hard work put into one (season).”
Hard work, mental toughness and defense have been critical to the team’s success, coach Gregg Webb said.
“That’s really what’s gotten us here,” he said. “Our focus and determination.”
That and a stellar defense. Not only has the Eudora ‘D’ doubled as a stone wall for opposing offenses, it has created 14 interceptions (sophomore safety Andrew Ballock leads the team with six) and 12 fumble recoveries (Ballock, free safety Derek Webb and junior linebacker Gabe Cleveland all have two). Senior defensive back Matthew Gadberry leads the team with 131 total tackles, junior linebacker Markis Hill has 95, and Cleveland has 88.
Coach Webb said what makes the Cardinals special on defense is that he never knows from play to play who is going to make the next game-changing tackle or takeaway. He said if he absolutely had to pick one player likely to do so, it would be senior defensive tackle Alex Whitten.
“He’s just been so disruptive,” the coach said. “Teams have to worry about him. And they have to worry about him with not one, but two, guys on every play, or he’s gonna make their life miserable.”
Snell, who plays defensive end, said pure want-to had driven the defense throughout its rampage of a season.
“We all just try really hard,” he said. “We put in so much work this whole season. We want it so bad.”
Senior cornerback Chris Pyle said each Cardinal on the field wants to make a play on defense.
“We all rally to the ball and run to the ball really well,” he said.
On offense, they might run with the ball even better. Eudora has three primary ball carriers, and they’ve all rushed for more than 1,000 yards this year. Pyle, at running back, leads the way with nearly eight yards a carry and 1,799 total. QB Derek Webb has rushed for 1,067, and running back Cleveland has contributed 1,054 of his own.
There’s nothing flashy about the EHS offense, and that’s just fine with the players, Pyle said.
“That smash-mouth football — that’s what we like to call it — it’s pretty fun,” he said.
The Eudora ground game has been enjoyable for all involved, coach Webb said, because of the offensive line. The big guys up front — Snell, Whitten, junior Nick Becker, senior Jared Ireland and senior Jarrod Kaup — have allowed the Cardinals to shorten games and add notches in the win column. Webb said EHS takes opposing offenses out of games by keeping them on the sideline, and the linemen deserve the credit.
“They have been outstanding all year and are big and physical kids that are smart and know what to do,” their coach said.
Snell said it has helped that the four seniors have been playing together for four years. When they check out the defense at the line of scrimmage, he said, each lineman points out who he is going to block and — if everyone is going hard — there is nothing the defenders can do about it.
“We tell them we’re gonna come at you and smash you in the face,” Snell said.
That approach and its success, Pyle said, gives Eudora’s runners confidence.
“It makes running the ball a lot easier,” he said. “It’s good to know they’re in front of you, opening up holes.”
The game plan won’t be any different this week, either. Why would it be? Smash-mouth football has worked for Eudora 12 out of 13 times this season. The Cardinals haven’t lost since falling, 17-13, at Saint James Academy, in Lenexa, on Sept. 9. That game, Derek Webb said, taught the team about being prepared every week. He said this week, with a state title up for grabs, preparation will be as crucial as ever.
“We’re just gonna have to come out, stay focused and stick to our plan,” he said.