By Bill Althaus
How good is the Fort Osage defense?
“Better than we were last year,” said senior linebacker Nathan Iloilo, after picking off a pass, forcing a fumble, leading a defensive stand that produced a safety and playing a huge role in a team effort that limited Blue Springs South to just 193 total yards of offense in the Indians’ 40-9 victory Friday night at Larry Stewart Memorial Stadium.
Now, some may take that as a bold statement, when you think about last year's team that recorded a school-record seven shutouts en route to a Class 5 state championship appearance.
“I think we're bigger, stronger, faster and have more depth than last year,” Iloilo said as was mobbed by teammates and Indian fans in the Blue Springs South parking lot after the game. “And we don't panic. We've never panicked, and we sure aren't going to this year.”
It would have been easy to see a bit of panic in the Indians' eyes as the Jaguars marched down the field for a first-quarter touchdown the first time they touched the ball Friday night.
After all, the Indians were starting a sophomore at quarterback in Skylar Thompson (please see game story), and when the two teams met last season, Fort came away with a 6-0 win on their natural grass field in a game that was played in a monsoon.
“We knew tonight was going to be tough, and when they scored first, it just made us work that much harder,” Iloilo said. “I don't want to get into last year, but all we heard for a year was how the game was played in the rain and on our natural grass field.
“Tonight the weather was perfect, it was a turf field and we won. That's all I have to say.”
Iloilo was the personification of class as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The game was hard-fought, there could have been some ill will between the two teams and he went up and down the sidelines saying, “When it's 00:00 on the clock, they're no longer you opponents. Shake their hands. Tell them good game. That's it, nothing else needs to be said.”
Well, nothing else until they met up with former Indians defensive coordinator Jon Oyler, who spent eight years with the Indians before turning the reigns over to Brock Bult and returning to his South alma mater this season.
“We worked hard, and we will always work hard,” Iloilo said. “And even though we lost Coach Oyler, we believed in Coach Bult and the move has been seamless.”
Following the game, most of the Indian defensive players met Oyler by the home bench and enjoyed a special moment.
“None of us could really talk,” Iloilo said. “We didn't want to get emotional. He told us he was proud of us, and we told him we loved him and to go out and win the rest of the games this season.”
As Iloilo dissected the defense, big Josh Tuimaseve walked by carrying the Indians' traditional sledgehammer.
It goes to the player who makes the biggest hit in the week's previous game.
He came up with six of the nine points scored by the Indians defense as he picked up a late fumble and turned it into a 16-yard score.
“Tauai (Tuala) hit the kid, and Chris (Brice) scooped it over to me,” Tuimaseve said. “If you put me in the paper, put them in there too because they were two guys who made it happen. That's why our defense is so successful. We work as a team, we work as brothers. We're a team within a team, we love each other and love Fort Osage High School.”
With South's backs pinned on the one-foot line, the Indians defense recorded a safety and two more points when everyone on the defense crushed the South ball carrier, adding to the mayhem and domination by the Indians.
“I'd hate to play against our defense,” Thompson said. “They just come after you and keep coming after you. They're bad – and that's good for us.”
Coach Ryan Schartz agreed.
“The consistency this defense has shown the past two years is pretty amazing,” he said as the final Indians walked onto the team busses. “We've played some young kids, and they are battle-tested. We have the Iloilos and Tuimaseves out there, but we have some sophomores and some juniors playing a lot, too.
“And what about the job Coach Bult did with this defense? I don't think anyone expected the final score, but we knew they were going to have to work hard to score points. And our defense put up a touchdown and a safety tonight. How about that.”
The Jaguars lost starting quarterback Chris Swingle, who suffered an ankle injury and had to leave the game.
Josh Watson, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound South linebacker, showed what he was made of when he greeted every Blue Springs South teammate as they entered the post-game huddle. He encouraged them and told them to keep their heads up.
“It's a tough loss, and we have to look at film to see what we need to work on,” South coach Greg Oder said as he left the field. He said he had no update on Swingle's injury.