X marks the spot for a Blue Springs High School season-opening victory – as in Darrius “The X-Factor” Shepherd.
The return man/wide receiver made a 20-yard circus catch over his shoulder in the far corner of the end zone and returned his second punt of the season for a 70-yard touchdown to lead the defending Class 6 state champion Wildcats to a mercy-clock 41-6 victory over St. Joseph Central Friday night at Peve Stadium.
Shepherd wasn't the only Wildcat player to enjoy a big night.
Reigning Simone Award winner and Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year Dalvin Warmack had 14 carries for 172 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown run, and he grabbed a short shovel pass from Ian Brown and turned it into a jaw-dropping 84-yard score where he skipped, danced past and dodged more than half of the Indians defense.
The Wildcats defense, which allowed just 168 yards of total offense (the lone Central score came on a 72-yard interception return by Kyle Fox), was led by reigning Buck Buchanan Award winner Elijah Hill, who had 1 1/2 sacks on the night.
Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe played all reserves in the fourth period.
Two big question marks were answered as the Wildcats offensive line, which returned Jordan Benson as the lone starter, did a nice job opening holes for Warmack and protecting Brown, who did not suffer a sack.
And Brown, the first-year Wildcat who played at Rockhurst High School last year, was 10 of 16 passing for 168 yards and two scores with the one interception.
“Overall, a very good first game,” Donohoe said. “The line improved throughout the game, and Ian did a nice job for his first game. He made a few mistakes, and he's the type of kid you can nitpick a little bit because he wants to be so good.
“The defense was outstanding, and I take credit for giving up that interception. It was a play we worked on in the summer, and I thought we could break a big play. Our defense played so hard tonight – those guys deserved a shutout.”
When asked about Shepherd setting the tone for the game, Donohoe just shook his head and said, “He's the most underrated kid in the metro area. I wouldn't trade him for anyone. Look what he did tonight, and he'd done it for two seasons. We love Shep.”
Both Shepherd (who was carted off the field by trainer Steve Morrow) and Warmack suffered from mild cramps in their legs because of the heat. Both players said they were fine.
“I just need a ride to the locker room,” quipped Shep. “Here's my ride.”
It was easy to smile after win like that.
“It's great to get the first game, the mistakes out of the way early,” Warmack said. “I was proud of all phases of the game, especially the line. They played hard and got better as the game went on.”
Benson was quick to add, “I told them they better work hard. If you give Dalvin an inch, he can score a touchdown. The new guys found out how good he is tonight, and I'm proud of how hard they played.”
Lee, who transferred from Central before last season, said he enjoyed seeing a number of family and friends.
“It's nice to see the people you know,” Lee said, “but the win is nicer.”