Mill Valley football fully-focused for 5A semifinal rematch against Aquinas
Ever since suffering a 40-33 down-to-the-wire loss to St. Thomas Aquinas in Week 5 of the regular season, the Mill Valley football team has been eager for the possibility of a postseason rematch against the Eastern Kansas League foe.
The Jaguars (7-4) will get that rematch, when they take on the Saints (8-3) in the Class 5A state semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Aquinas.
"Right after the night that we lost that game, one of our main goals was to get back to Aquinas," Mill Valley junior quarterback Brody Flaming said. "We just set our minds on what we needed to do to get back to Aquinas. We're here."
The setback against Aquinas was the second loss of a four-game skid, but the Jaguars have bounced back to win four in a row. This is the second straight year that the Jaguars and Saints have clashed in the state semifinals. The Jaguars defeated the Saints, 45-28, last year before upending Bishop Carroll in the state championship game.
"I always look forward to playing Aquinas. They've become a rivalry," senior safety Joel Donn said. "It's awesome. We've always had it in the back of our minds that we were going to see Aquinas again.
"We had the same mindset last year. We knew that we were going to see them again. The fact that we're going to get this opportunity again is just amazing."
Donn and the Jaguars defense have stepped up their play over the past three weeks to key another deep postseason run for Mill Valley. The Jaguars shut out St. James in the second half last week to top the Thunder, 28-14, in the quarterfinals. Donn recorded a team-high 12 tackles, while Josh Winscott followed with 11 and added an interception.
"We've put in a ton of work. A lot of people were talking about how we were going to recover for next year and stuff," Donn said. "I think it's awesome to see that everyone is finally starting to figure everything out. It's amazing when you work every single day and everybody buys into the process and you get the success from it."
Mill Valley coach Joel Applebee knows that his defense will have its work cut out in containing Aquinas junior quarterback Will Swanson and the Saints offense. The Jaguars struggled to stop the dual-threat quarterback in Week 5, as Swanson rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. Swanson also completed 5-of-9 for 78 yards and a touchdown.
"Obviously coach (Randy) Dreiling has really mastered that offense. (He has) kind of been the guy around here that a lot of people start jumping on board kind of running start running that offense," Applebee said. "It's very unique. You have to be discipline and you have to play very, very physical because Aquinas and the way coach Dreiling coaches those guys is they're going to play physical. They're going to play fast, and you better be ready to bring it. Those are things that I think our kids understand."
While the Jaguars were unable to edge the Saints in the regular season, the loss to Aquinas marked the coming out party for Jaguars running back Cameron Young. The sophomore back rushed for 191 yards and two scores on 25 touches against the Saints. Young has racked up at least 140 yards on the ground in the past seven games.
"His confidence has been growing throughout the year," Jaguars left tackle Keegan Zars said. "It's just nice to see him starting to hit holes hard and trusting us more. That's what we thrive on."
Applebee echoed Zars' thoughts on Young, who rushed for 1,402 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
"He's maturing mentally and physically throughout the year. He's just gotten better and better, and it's really fun watching him and seeing that improvement throughout the year," Applebee said. "We expect nothing less out of him this Friday. We expect him to run hard and do what he does."
The winner of Friday's semifinal matchup will play either Great Bend (10-1) or Goddard (10-1) in the state championship game at 1 p.m. Nov. 26 at Pittsburg State's Carnie Smith Stadium.
"I think it's going to be a tremendous atmosphere," Applebee said of Friday's showdown with Aquinas. "It's going to be a great place to play. Aquinas has got great fans, we've got great fans. We really feel like we're going to have a good following over there, so it's going to be a lot of fun."