Grain Valley Eagles' Cole Keller nabs MVP award, leads Missouri all-stars past Kansas
Thursday’s Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association BeYOUnion.com Kansas vs. Missouri All-Star Game didn’t start well for Grain Valley quarterback Cole Keller.
He was sacked three times in the first half and lost a fumble. In the first 30 minutes, Keller rotated with two other signal-callers. In the second half, he got the majority of the playing time and made the most of it.
The recent Eagles graduate led Missouri’s only two touchdown drives and completed 8 of 13 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown and added 21 yards on the ground, leading Missouri to a 20-12 win over Kansas Thursday night at North Kansas City High School.
The win ended Missouri’s two-game losing streak in the annual game (last year’s game was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic), which featured some of the metro area’s best senior football players from both sides of the state line.
Keller’s play helped his team erase a 9-6 halftime deficit, and he won Most Valuable Player honors for the Missouri squad.
“It’s pretty cool (to be named MVP),” said Keller, who has signed with Division II Washburn. “I don’t know if I deserve it 100 percent. That’s just me being hard on myself. I appreciate the honor and recognition.
“Being around talented football players like this definitely elevates your game.”
Other Eastern Jackson County players had an impact on the victory, including the Van Horn trio of Sean Mitchell, Jason Skivers and Arlandes Mitchell, who played their final game together.
“It was a heck of a ride the past four years,” said Sean Mitchell, who didn’t get invited to play in the game until Tuesday. “I will miss those guys, but this won’t be the last time we play football together.”
Added Arlandes Mitchell: “I got so excited when Sean got to come at the last minute. We all did our job and had fun.”
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Blue Springs South’s Aden Birdwell and Lee’s Summit North’s Adrien Block also contributed.
In the second half, Kansas extended its lead to 12-6 on a 20-yard field goal from Adam Young. Skivers played a big part in holding the opponent to a field goal by tackling Kansas quarterback Ty Black in the backfield for a loss on third down.
“I told everyone that (Kansas) might as well put me at running back because I was going to be in their backfield a lot,” said Skivers, who had two solo tackles, a tackle for loss and a handful of pressures on the opposing quarterbacks. “Everything I did tonight, I earned. Those were some of the best players from Kansas.”
A big return to the Kansas 9-yard line from Staley’s Rajon Hill set up Keller to take over. He threw a strike to Park Hill South’s Eric Avery on a slant route for a 9-yard touchdown pass to put Missouri up for good at 13-12.
“Oh (heck) yeah, he’s solid,” Keller said when asked if he was looking forward to playing with Avery before the game. “All the receivers were so talented and were great route runners.
“He came up to me and said, ‘The slant is open.’ The coach called the play and I didn’t like the play, so I changed it to a slant. It was a hell of a call and a heck of a catch.”
After Missouri got a stop on defense, Missouri scored on its next possession when Keller ran 27 yards on a read option play that completely fooled the Kansas defense. His big play set up a 17-yard touchdown run from Center’s Nosa Ohamnu.
“They ran a similar-type offense and similar-type schemes that (Keller) was used to with us,” said Grain Valley head coach David Allie, the current GKCFCA president who helped out at the event. “He made a good read there. He saw the defender commit to the running back and he pulled it and went.
“He did that for us quite a bit.”
Other Eastern Jackson County players were on the field when it mattered most. Mitchell, Skivers, Block and Birdwell all played a heavy number of snaps on defense in the fourth quarter and helped hold Kansas to just three second-half points.
“It really showed that all the work I put in during all these practices really helped me out,” Birdwell, an all-state defensive lineman for the Jaguars who has signed with Central Missouri, said of playing the majority of the fourth quarter. “They got me into shape and ready for this game.”
For the Van Horn trio, it was an emotional moment playing with each other for the final time and playing for their former head coach William Harris, who served as the defensive ends coach.
“Playing with them in this hurts a little bit more because it actually feels like it’s over,” said Skivers, who will now head to Missouri as a preferred walk-on. “This was my last time playing for Coach Harris, too. He came up to me and said, ‘Thanks for everything.’ It was a blessing to play with these guys and my coach.
“I made some friends, too.”