Ryan Schartz looked out his office window at Fort Osage Osage High School to check what type of rain was falling.
“I want to go out for a walk-through,” said Schartz, whose 9-0 Indians play host to the 5-5 North Kansas City Hornets at 7 p.m. tonight in a Class 5 District 7 football semifinal. “If it's too wet, we'll watch some film – these guys are ready to play.
“They've been ready for this game since the start of the season.”
Schartz's Indians are attempting to reach the Class 5 state championship game for a second year in a row and third time in five years, and that task has left this team dedicated and determined.
“Not a guy on this team cares about his personal stats,” said standout senior running back Ezra Vaoifi, who has rushed for 1,585 yards and 21 touchdowns on 190 carries at full speed this season following two years of rehab for a torn ACL. “We want to go to state and we want to win it this year.”
Although the undefeated Indians routed the Hornets 49-7 in the regular-season, Schartz has warned his team about overconfidence.
“Our guys don't get overconfident,” Schartz said. “They're playing great ball, and they're playing without fear. We're not going out trying not to lose, we're going out to win. That's the approach that got us to the (Edward Jones) Dome (site of the state championship games) last year, and we hope it gets us there this year, too.
“But you know what? We scouted Northtown last week when they beat Chrisman (36-34) and they have a running back in the starting lineup who didn't play against us, and they looked like a lot better team,” he added, referring to the Oct. 18 win. “Just because we won big against them the first time isn't any guarantee that we can do it again. Our coaches know that, and you better believe we're letting our players know that, too.”
Once again this season, the Indians feature a strong running game with Vaoifi and a line that features five returning starters. The lone big change in the offense is at quarterback where highly regarded sophomore Skylar Thompson has replaced three-year starter Stephen McBee and has completed 76 of 135 passes for 1,094 yards and 15 TDs to go with just two interceptions.
“Early on, we just asked Skylar to manage the offense and take care of the ball, and he's done that really well,” Schartz said. “You know me, I love to run the ball. And with our line and Ezra running like he has this year, you'd be silly not to.
“But Skylar has matured a lot this season and gotten better every game. Everyone on the team has confidence in him. You watch him play and you can't believe the kid is a sophomore.”
The Indians are coming into the game off a bye week, and Schartz said that benefited his team.
“We had some guys who were able to rest, to heal up – especially (receiver) Jesse (McBee), who is dealing with that concussion,” Schartz said. “It felt funny not playing last week, but believe me, we're ready to go this week.”
CLASS 3 DISTRICT 7: Oak Grove coach Pat Richard knows what his 9-1 Panthers will face a stronger opponent at 7 tonight on their home field when 5-5 O'Hara visits the Panther Pit.
Oak Grove comes into the game off a 66-6 victory over Kansas City Southwest, and the Panthers will be ready for whatever the Celtics throw their way. O’Hara downed an 8-1 Pembroke Hill team 27-21 in overtime last week.
“It's going to be a battle,” Richard said. “They throw the ball well and have a couple of nice running backs and wide-outs. When we lost to Center last year (in the playoffs), it hurt. We all came back with a bad taste in our mouths. Just because we beat Southwest like we did last week, believe me, none of our guys think that all we have to do is show up to win.”
Certainly not three-year starting linebacker Ethan Fugitt, who got a kick out of watching the reserves play a half last week against Southwest.
“That was fun,” said Fugitt, a senior who has led the Panthers in tackles the past three seasons and has rushed for a 1,057 yards and 15 touchdowns on just 100 carries this season in a balanced backfield that also features junior Aaron Graham (1,103 yards, 10 TDs, 122 carries). “They work as hard as we do and deserve to get some playing time. All that can do is help us if someone goes down with an injury, our younger guys will come into the game with game experience.”
When asked about the Celtics, Fugitt said, “We knew we should have gone farther in the postseason last year, and we're not going to let anyone stand in our way this year. That bad taste is still there, but it gets a little better every time we win.”