Nathan Iloilo, the all-state defensive end/linebacker who anchors the nasty Fort Osage defense, made a bold comment early in the 2013 season.
“I know we lost some great players off last year's team and we had the school shutout record, but I think we're even better this year,” Iloilo said.
“They may be better,” Indians coach Ryan Schartz said as his 11-0 squad prepared for 10-1 Kearney in a 1:30 p.m. state quarterfinal game Saturday at Fort Osage. “When a team scores, you're kind of surprised. I mean, they've been that strong this season, and Nathan is a big part of the success.
“There are a whole lot of guys who are a big part of the success.”
The Indians are on a roll where they have allowed just 21 points in their last five games, and each score has come against reserves in a mercy-clock setting. Fort Osage has allowed just 77 points all season, an average of just 7 a game.
Staley scored a season-high 12 points against the Indians, and it came in a 15-12 Falcons loss.
“We're so determined not to let anyone score,” said Iloilo, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior who was named the Suburban Middle Seven Defensive Player of the Year by the conference’s coaches. “We take a lot of pride in what we're doing. We went to state last year and had the seven shutouts but didn't get the job done. This year, we have to take care of Kearney, then we're in the state semifinals – one game away from our only goal this season.
“But now, all we're thinking about is Kearney, and they are going to be one of the best teams we've faced this season.”
The Indians will have tough challenge. They must stop one of the metro area’s best workhorse running backs in Brock Broughton, who has 1,904 yards and 32 touchdowns in 273 carries this season. The Bulldogs also boast a good senior quarterback in Austin Hinck, who has completed 125 of 206 passes for 2,104 yards, 22 TDs and six interceptions.
Running the Indians’ offense Saturday will be sophomore quarterback Skylar Thompson, who does not appear to have a nerve in his body.
“He doesn't look like a sophomore out there, does he?” Schartz said. “Sometimes he'll make a sophomore mistake, but he'll come right back and make a great play. And he knows he has a great line and one of the best running backs in the state to hand the ball off to.”
Thompson has completed 94 of 165 passes for 1,344 yards, 19 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Senior running back Ezra Vaoifi is having his finest season with 237 carries for 1,918 yards and 26 touchdowns.
“Those two guys are amazing,” said senior center Griffin Bledsoe, who anchors the “Big Smarties” line that features five returning seniors from last year's Class 5 state runner-up. “When you give Ezra a little hole in the line, he can make big things happen.
“And Skylar is great. We all get together and eat at his house once a week. He can't keep up with us eating, but he can keep up with us playing. We love the kid.”
As in any big game, Schartz said there are a few keys to improving to 12-0.
“We can't make a big mistake – a fumble or interception – and we haven't done much of that this season,” Schartz said. “They have a great back and quarterback, so we have to maintain some long offensive drives to keep them off the field, and we've done a lot of that this year.
“And our defense has to play the way it's been playing this season, and I know the boys are going to come on Saturday and be ready to go. We're all going to be ready. It's a big game, and we can't wait.”