Heart of a champion
By David Svoboda PrepsKC staff writer
Backed into a corner, a true champion stands his ground and fights.
And every now and then, that champion delivers a knockout.
Blue Valley, the defending Class 5A football champion, found itself backed into that corner heading into Friday night’s battle with Gardner Edgerton at Blue Valley.
Not only did the Tigers need a win, they needed a victory of eight points or more just to reach the playoffs.
What Coach Eric Driskell’s team delivered was a dominant 40-6 thrashing of the Trailblazers. Mission accomplished. District 4 championship delivered.
“We played with emotion tonight,” Driskell said in an understatement. “Last week we were flat in all areas and it showed.”
Stung by a 45-35 defeat by Pittsburg one week ago, Driskell’s Tigers put together the kind of team performance coaches dream about.
On defense, Blue Valley bounced back from the fiasco by allowing a potent Trailblazer offense just 119 total yards prior to the final Gardner-Edgerton drive of the night. And 42 of those yards came on a single run by tailback Traevohn Wrench, who was held to just 69 yards on 16 carries.
Offensively, senior quarterback Kyle Zimmerman was 18-of-24 for 212 yards and two TDs through the air, and added three rushing touchdowns.
To add some icing on the offensive cake, senior tailback Justin Fulks had 19 carries for 144 yards. Dominant while desperate.
“It was a team effort,” Driskell said. “Probably our best of the year to date. “
Playing with that desperation that showed they fully understood the importance of a big win, Blue Valley put on a first half offensive clinic.
The Tigers grabbed the early lead and never looked back.
The initial scoring drive went 53 yards in 13 plays, and was capped when Zimmerman hit junior tight end Andrew Reinkemeyer with a beautiful throw on a fade route in the far corner of the end zone on a fourth and 18 from the Gardner Edgerton 21.
The gamble was made necessary when Zimmerman was sacked on third and 6 from the 9.
The sack might have been the only time on the night where Zimmerman’s scrambling ability didn’t come to his – and his team’s – rescue.
A great example of Zimmerman’s ability to aid his team on the ground came on the final two plays of the second Tiger scoring march.
On third and 5 from the Gardner 10, he scrambled for a tough eight yards and the first down. One play later, he attempted to go airborne and extended the ball far enough to break the plane of the goal line in a gutsy, if not gutty, effort to put his team up 14-0.
“I leapt into the air and stuck the ball out there,” Zimmerman recounted. “I was determined to do everything I could to help this team win.”
Gardner Edgerton got its only points of the first half in their ensuing drive, but they needed several gift penalties by the Tiger defense to do so.
After seemingly being stopped on a fourth and 5 play at the Blue Valley 41, the Trailblazers saw Blue Valley penalized for 35 of the 41 yards remaining to reach pay dirt.
Wrench skirted around the Tiger defenders from the 4-yard-line for the score, which cut Blue Valley’s lead to 14-6 after the PAT kick was missed.
Zimmerman hit big throws of 39 and 10 yards in the next Tiger drive as Blue Valley answered the Trailblazer score with one of its own. The talented QB scrambled for 14 yards and the touchdown to cap the drive – poking the ball just inside the front pylon on the far side of the field. Blue Valley missed a PAT kick of its own to make it 20-6 at the half.
And if the contest wasn’t over at that point, it certainly was after the first Tiger drive of the second half – which included a 60-yard burst from Fulks, who was tripped up at the one. Zimmerman poked the ball in again two plays later, and it was 27-6.
Zimmerman hooked up with sophomore receiver Tristan Perkins for a 42-yard scoring strike to round out the scoring by the Blue Valley offense.
Yep, the Tigers scored on defense, too.
After a fumbled handoff between Trailblazer QB Jared Hobby and Wrench, Tiger linebacker Cole Foster scooped the bouncing ball and rambled 23 yards for the final score of the night.
The overall effort didn’t surprise the Blue Valley quarterback one bit.
“We talk so much about belief here,” he said of his team’s approach. “We’ve really come together as a group and didn’t want it to end here.”
It won’t. Champions stand up and fight.
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