Grain Valley proves it belongs among larger schools
Cole Keller responsible for four touchdowns as Eagles blank Truman in first meeting between schools
It was just two years ago when the Grain Valley football team joined the Suburban Conference, partly thanks to its rapidly growing population.
Before that, Grain Valley spent prior years in the Missouri River Valley Conference West.
Their first two years were in the smallest division of the Suburban Conference, and this year the Eagles moved up to the Suburban Middle Six. That meant that the program is getting to face new opponents after playing schools mostly smaller schools.
Friday was one of those first-time matchups against Truman, and Grain Valley proved it could hang with bigger teams. Behind 253 total yards and four touchdowns – two passing and two running – from quarterback Cole Keller, the Eagles dominated the shorthanded Patriots 38-0.
“It motivates us,” Keller said of playing large schools after the Eagles improved to 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the new conference. “We’re seen as this small town. They say, ‘It’s a hick town. It’s a small town. They don’t deserve to be playing with us.’
“We know we are a historically smaller school coming up and we want to let them know that we are here and we want to play, too.”
Added Eagles offensive/defensive lineman Donovan McBride: “We proved we can hang with the best of them.”
Playing in a tough MRVC West in previous years helped prepare Grain Valley to play teams in the Suburban Conference.
“It’s a lot different, but I feel the competition level is the same,” said Grain Valley senior receiver Carter Vrlenich. “I feel like the teams we have in our class are better teams in other classes.”
Grain Valley head coach David Allie admitted that it was a lot different playing in the Suburban Conference after Grain Valley spent so many years in the MRVC West.
“It’s a different brand of football in the MRVC,” Allie said. “It’s a very physical and ground-heavy game in that conference. We played some great teams in that conference.
“There’s great competition in the Suburban Conference, too. There are some teams in this conference with more athleticism and you see a wider variety of offenses. Here in the Suburban Conference you got spread, you got zone and option. There’s more variety.”
After throwing an interception on his first pass, Keller completed six out of his next eight. One of them was a 8-yard TD pass off play action to tight end Ryan Summerlin for a 7-0 lead.
The only non-Keller touchdown came with 4:44 left in the first half when junior running back Jaxon Wyatt scored on a 2-yard run.
Even with less than 5 minutes left, the Eagles managed to score two more times before halftime. Keller showed off his arm strength by connecting with Vrlenich on a 55-yard scoring pass on the first play of one possession. And after the Eagles defense got a three-and-out, they scored in two plays, ending with Keller’s 22-yard run to make it 28-0.
Perhaps the most impressive play came when Keller scampered for 69 yards for a touchdown, on a play in which he looked like he was shot out of a cannon and outran the Patriots defense at the 9:10 mark in the third.
“We wanted to break some tendencies and not run on first down so much,” said Allie, whose team totaled 420 yards on offense. “But unfortunately that first throw didn’t work out because it was an interception. But Cole turned the page and had a masterful game.”
Kicker Austin Schmitt later added a 19-yard field goal for the final score. On defense, Grain Valley held Truman to just 185 total yards.
“The defense bent but didn’t break,” Allie said. “We had a huge sack in the second quarter (by McBride) and that was a momentum changer.”
Truman (0-4), which had led in each of its first three games, came into the game without a handful of players because of injuries and suspensions from a fight in last week’s game against Oak Park.
“It’s always a next-man-up mentality and I thought our kids did a good job,” Truman coach Charlie Pugh said. “It gave some other guys an opportunity to play, have fun and compete.”
That allowed quarterback John Chapin and running back Patrick Martin to get their first varsity starts on offense. Chapin completed 13 of his 21 passes (61 percent) for 76 yards and two interceptions. Martin had a breakout game with 109 yards on 20 carries.
“(Chapin) is a good kid and he does what we ask him to do,” Pugh said. “He has the potential to be a very special quarterback for us.
“Patrick is a tremendous athlete. He’s been one of our starting corners for two years now. He’s just an athlete, and we needed someone to step up and he filled that void for us.”
Grain Valley, on the other hand, is riding high on a 4-0 start and Keller said he knew this season would be one to remember.
“We knew this was going to be a special season since we were in third grade,” said Keller, who was 6 of 9 passing for 162 yards and ran for 91 yards on four carries. “We knew it would be and we’re trying to live that out.”