Cougars overcome injuries, Ravens for dramatic victory
They lost two starters to injuries in the first half. They lost two more starters to injuries in the second half. They were down to their fourth-string running back by game’s end.
Despite all of those bad breaks, the Shawnee Mission Northwest football team stuck to what it knew best — a power running game — and relied on the leadership of senior quarterback Colton Dirks to claim a dramatic, last-second, come-from-behind victory against previously unbeaten Olathe Northwest, 23-20, Friday night at the College Boulevard Activity Complex.
“It was good to reward the kids with a victory,” Northwest coach Aaron Barnett said. “That’s two games in a row where we were able to fight back in the second half from big halftime deficits. The kids showed a little resilience and created long drives in the second half to take the ball out of Olathe Northwest’s hands.”
Indeed, the Ravens proved to be pretty proficient on offense in the first half. Olathe Northwest utilized the spread well and took a 20-6 halftime lead. One of the Ravens’ touchdowns came on a pass to 6-foot-10 wide receiver Willie Cauley. The Cougars’ lone score in the first half came on a Dirks touchdown run.
The Ravens proved to be very aggressive on offense in the first half, converting three of four fourth-down attempts and utilizing a fake punt to keep their first scoring drive alive. However, that theme would be nullified in the second half by a tweaking of the Cougar defense.
“In the second half, they (Olathe Northwest) were 0-for-3 on fourth down attempts,” Barnett said. “We made some changes at halftime and we were able to stop them much more efficiently in the second half. We also kept it on the ground offensively in the second half, and that’s what you have to do against a spread team. You want to limit their possessions.”
Throughout the game, the odds stacked against the Cougars as the injury bug began to take out players who could help SMNW hold on to the ball on offense.
In the first half, senior running back/linebacker Austin Vanderpool and senior running back/defensive back Duan Johnson left the game due to injuries. In the second half, Devin Shockley and senior running back Danny Manning also were forced out of the game with injuries. By the time the game ended, fourth-string running back Davis Miller was getting the majority of the halfback carries.
Still, the Cougars had Dirks, who led them on their final two scoring drives after Manning had scored a third-quarter touchdown before his injury. After tying the game at 20-20 in the fourth quarter, the Cougars took over on the final possession of the game at their own 40. Led by Dirks, SMNW marched deep into Olathe Northwest territory. With two seconds left, the Cougars set up kicker Jorn Winkelmolen for a 30-yard field goal.
In a similar situation last week, a low snap forced Winkelmolen to rush his kick with a chance to defeat Shawnee Mission West at the end of regulation. That kick never got above the crossbar and the Cougars fell to the Vikings in overtime, 38-31.
This time, Winkelmolen’s kick was true and the Cougars escaped with a dramatic 23-20 win, their first of the season.
“It was especially good for Jorn,” Barnett said. “To come back seven days later — in almost the exact same situation — and he makes it. It was nice for him.”
The Cougars are now 1-2 on the season. They travel to Lawrence Free State Friday to square off against the Firebirds.