Second half shutout lifts Royal Valley football over Sabetha
Going into the heart of its football schedule, there were bound to be some road bumps for fourth-ranked (Class 4A-DII) Royal Valley. While they presented themselves early in the team’s final non-district game at Sabetha on Friday, the Panthers quickly adjusted course and cruised in the second half on the way to a 20-12 victory over the Blue Jays.
RVHS head coach Jake Lott noted that Sabetha is always a tough match-up. The coach and players expected nothing less from the Blue Jays on Friday night and while the momentum swung back and forth early, the Panthers held onto it tight in the end to secure their fifth consecutive win.
Sabetha struck the first blow of the game, after the Royal Valley offense stalled at midfield on its first drive. The Blue Jays then picked up a quick first down on a wide receiver screen and marched down to the Panthers’ 14-yard line in three plays.
Quarterback Brandon Poe then connected with Calder Keehn for an 11-yard touchdown pass to give the home team a 6-0 (the extra point was blocked) lead.
“They were clearly getting off the ball a lot quicker than what we were ready for and they run that offense really well,” Lott said, “but we weren’t quite ready for the speed of the game and what they were going to do.”
While they might not have been ready then, it looked like Royal Valley was ready to answer halfway through the first quarter. The Panthers started to march down the field once again and seemed to have a little luck on their side as Noah Ensley caught a pass off a deflection early on that kept the drive alive.
Royal Valley got deep into Blue Jay territory, but an efficient drive ended abruptly again. This time, the defense read a quick pass and Keehn made another big play for Sabetha, intercepting it at the 27-yard line.
Penalties and turnovers may have slowed down the RVHS offense early, something Lott worked with his team in practice last week to limit, but those issues quickly began to even out as the game progressed.
“I’d rather play a completely clean game, but if you’re going to have one, you can’t let it affect you. You have to make up for it in some way,” Lott said. “When you make a penalty or make a turnover, you can’t let the other team gain momentum or benefit from that.”
The Panthers put that philosophy into practice immediately following the interception, as Royal Valley’s defense then came up with a turnover of its own. Trent Terrell forced a fumble that was recovered by Jarrett Roy on the third play of the Blue Jays’ following drive.
While a holding penalty then seemed to halt the Panthers’ progress once again, quarterback Zack Lux negated it (something Royal Valley did routinely on Friday night) with a long option run on the ensuing play, which set-up a three-yard score by Derrick Barger. Following the extra-point, RV took a 7-6 lead it would never relinquish.
Sabetha was in business again after that to start the second quarter, but the defense stepped up again for Royal Valley. While Blue Jay Brock Frey broke free on a 49-yard run to get deep into Panther territory, the RV defense was undeterred.
The Panthers hunkered down and held Sabetha out of the end zone despite the Blue Jays having third and goal at the one-yard line. A false start set the Blue Jays back and the Panthers held their opponents to no gain on the following play, while an incomplete pass led to a turnover on downs.
Looking at 94 yards of open field didn’t seem to daunt Royal Valley. In fact, it just gave Barger and the Panthers a license to run. The senior running back made a few big plays for the Panthers on the following drive, ending in a 50-yard touchdown run that gave his team a 14-6 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half.
Sabetha’s offense got back into gear after that and answered quickly with a 23-yard touchdown run by Trae Snyder, but the two-point conversion was stopped and Royal Valley maintained a 14-12 lead.
It looked like the Panthers would add to that, but the penalties finally seemed to get to the team on its final drive in the first half, preventing RV from extending its lead.
The way the defense played in the second half rendered that a moot point, though, as Lott noted the Panthers made some minor adjustments and locked down the Blue Jays for the majority of the final two quarters.
“We just went with the defense we know and we’ve played all year. Our kids know it and play it well. We said, ‘hey, alright, if we’re going to do this, you guys better step up to the challenge,’ and our kids did,” Lott said.
To start the second half, the Royal Valley defense held Sabetha to two three and outs on the team’s first two possessions. Meanwhile, Barger added his third-touchdown of the night from seven yards out with a little more than two minutes left in the third quarter. The extra-point was blocked, but the Panthers still held a 20-12 lead, which proved to be more than enough.
After a short kick, the Blue Jays quickly made their way into RV territory on their next drive. Once again, the Panthers buckled down and Lux had a big tackle for loss on fourth and one to force a turnover on downs.
Lux also had a big night offensively, both on the ground and through the air, as he proves to be another efficient and dangerous weapon in addition to Barger and Noah Hart, who also had key contributions on both sides of the ball.
“I thought Zack did a really good job and he’s really done a pretty good job all year of executing our offense. He manages the game well and he’s in-tune mentally into the game. He knows what’s going on,” Lott said. “I’ve been impressed with the way he’s kind of taken a little extra step with the ball in his hands. He’s become a very tough runner. He realizes sometimes when he can and can’t do things and when to take chance and when not to.”
While the Panthers’ next offensive possession ended deep in Sabetha territory without any points, the defense continued to hold up its end. While the Blue Jays got 38 yards on a fake punt on their next drive, Royal Valley would not make the same mistake again.
Faced with their second fourth and four of the drive, an incomplete pass ended the Blue Jays’ progress once again and gave the ball back to the Panthers. With three minutes left in the game, Royal Valley was content to run out the clock and did so to wrap up its 20-12 road victory.
Those fourth-down stops were key, Lott said, and allowed Royal Valley to run out the clock in the final quarter. The coach noted his team especially stepped up on Sabetha’s final drive and showed a lot of resolve and he is hoping the Panthers can carry that over into district play.
“I thought it was just a great win by our kids. They didn’t have some stuff go their way. They had their backs against the wall several times and they just gutted out a win against what I think is a pretty good football team,” Lott said. “Hopefully it just re-affirms to the kids what we have to do to be successful in a football game and be successful against really good football teams.”
Royal Valley (5-1) will start district competition this coming Friday with a home contest against Perry-Lecompton. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Hoyt.
Oct. 9, 2016