The last thing E.J. Gaines was thinking about his freshman year at Fort Osage was playing for the Class 5 state championship.

The last thing E.J. Gaines was thinking about his freshman year at Fort Osage was playing for the Class 5 state championship.
“We weren’t very good when I was in middle school,” said Gaines, a shutdown cornerback/tailback who is a big reason the undefeated Indians are playing Webster Groves at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis for the Class 5 state title.
“I know we went a couple of years without a win, then Coach Schartz and his staff came and everything changed. It would be the greatest feeling in the world to give our fans a state championship. They’ve been with us all season, and we know they’re going to be with us in St. Louis.”
When the Indians downed host Raymore-Peculiar 30-19 in the state quarterfinals, the bleachers on both sides of the stadium were filled with Indian fans.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before,” said Indians head coach Ryan Schartz, a 1992 graduate of Raymore-Peculiar. “I think we had more fans there than Ray-Pec did.
“We’re that little school out on the hill – and we get our fans from Independence and Buckner and Sibley – and they are amazing.
“Before we played Raytown South (in the state semifinal contest, which Fort Osage won 13-6), I went up in the press box just to look at the crowd. There were cars parked everywhere and there were five or six people deep lined all around the stadium.
“The fans have been great, but I have one special request. They traveled to Ray-Pec, and it was a cold and nasty day and that’s no short drive. They always come to our place, and that makes it tough for an opponent.
“Now, we want them to come to the Dome, because we’re going to need every one of them. And we want them to be there, because it could be a special night.”   
Schartz inherited a team that had lost 19 games in a row.
Now, his 13-0 Indians are one game away from becoming the first Independence school to win a state championship game.
“I hope everyone at Fort Osage knows how proud we are of them,” Independence mayor and former Pop Warner League president Don Reimal said.
“I read in The Examiner where six of the players on the Fort Osage team played for the Independence Indians in our league. I remember donating to that team so it could go play in the nationals.
“That’s back when I was associated with the Pop Warner League, and it just makes me so proud that those players have continued playing the game, and playing the game at such a high level.
“We’re all behind the Indians, and we wish them luck.”
Schartz said this year’s team has more depth than any he’s coached.
Two years ago, the Indians lost in the state semifinals and last year, Raytown South edged Fort Osage 6-0 in state quarterfinal play.
“When we beat Ray-Pec in the quarterfinals it was huge,” said Gaines, who had three touchdowns in that victory. “Then, we played Raytown South again and our defense made a big stand and we won that game.
“Now, we’re playing for the state championship. I never thought I’d be saying that, although I knew we had some good guys coming up with me back when we were freshmen – but a state championship? That’s just amazing.”
Gaines, who has made a verbal commitment to play football at Missouri, is the Indians’ marquee player.
“E.J. will be the first guy to tell you he can’t do it all by himself,” Schartz said. “We’re playing South and it’s 13-6 at the half, and we wind up winning 13-6.
“Our defense was nails the second half of that game. Our offense was just good enough to get two scores, and our defense was pretty darned good the entire game.
“You know how I feel about my coaching staff. Those guys work their tails off, and our guys were ready to play.
“And they’re going to be ready to play Saturday. They are going to know everything there is to know about Webster Groves, I guarantee that. I’m not guaranteeing a win – but I guarantee our guys will be ready to play, our coaches will be ready to coach and it should be a great high school football game.”
Quarterback Edward Pearl, wide receiver Kamryn Tillmon and Gaines will be the names to watch on offense while Gaines, cornerback Nathan Hancock, linebacker Isaac Ankrom and defensive linemen Chris Hamilton, Clayton Jessick and Tony Tanumai have been rock solid on the defensive side of the ball.
Hamilton is the Indians punter, Tucker Hickey is their kicker and Steve Snyder came up with a huge block of a field goal in the win at Ray-Pec.
“We spend as much time at special teams as any other phase of our game,” Schartz said after going through an indoor session at SportsCity in Blue Springs. “There are three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams. You win those three phases and you win the game.”
The mood at this practice session is vibrant and electric. The players are pumped up and so are Schartz and his staff.
“Can you imagine what it’s going to be like in the Dome?” Schartz asked. “Oh man, we can’t wait to get there.”

A QUICK GLANCE AT THE GAME:

? WHAT: Class 5 Show-Me Bowl state final
? WHO: Second-ranked Fort Osage Indians (13-0) vs. No. 1-ranked Webster Groves Statesmen (12-0).
? WHEN & WHERE: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis.
? TV/RADIO: none
? WHAT’S ON THE LINE: The Missouri Class 5 high school football state championship.
? THE MATCHUP: Offensive stats for the two teams are similar. Fort Osage averages 200.2 yards rushing per game. Webster Groves is averaging 200.5. Both QBs – Fort’s Edward Pearl and Webster’s Derrick Dilworth have completed 57 percent of their passes. Pearl has 14 TDs and 3 interceptions; Dilworth has 13 TDs and 2 interceptions. … Webster played one less game because of its annual Turkey Day game with rival Kirkwood. The Statesmen couldn’t play it Thursday because of Saturday’s game. The JV played instead and lost 32-13.