Bishop Miege and St. James was on a bit of a collision course for the second straight year. Some might say they saw this coming others would argue that it wasn’t that simple this time around. I agree with the latter.
As the only two private school teams in the Class 4A playoff this fall, smart folks made cases for both No. 1 and previously-undefeated Basehor-Linwood, Paola, Piper, and Eudora, as worthy candidates to be the East quadrant representative in 2021. They said, if there was a season that a public school could make it to the state title game, this could be the year.
It helped that the storied Stags’ program and the Thunder, which you could call them the new kids on the block as the defending state champs, both faced major question marks entering this season. Miege, after falling to St. James in the semifinals last season, which effectively ended its six-year run as state champs, once again graduated a plethora of talent and leadership. Like St. James, that included a new starting quarterback in the fold. The Thunder, meanwhile, also lost running back LaJames White and a number of other starters on both sides of the ball.
Truth be told, not many knew what either team would look like in 2021. Then, after both squads endured tough starts in the Eastern Kansas League, the chances of a public school representing the east side of the bracket looked promising. Miege started 1-3 and finished the regular season at 2-6. But the Stags have historically begun playing their best football when it matters most. So, even as the No. 10 seed this season, they’ve taken care of business in the playoffs with wins over Tonganoxie, Chanute and Eudora.
With a tough four-game stretch early, St. James suffered losses to St. Thomas Aquinas, Blue Valley, Blue Valley West, and Blue Valley Northwest. Things looked bleak at times there, but coach Tom Radke and his squad finished the regular season with four straight wins, and, of course, have now stretched it to seven straight with victories against Louisburg, Basehor-Linwood and Piper.
So whether a Miege-St. James rematch surprised you or not, or if it frustrates you that private schools continue to represent the East, this is where we are. Regardless, Miege and St. James have proven to be the two top teams in the 4A east bracket, and could even be the top two of the four remaining (Andover Central and Buhler play in the West semifinals).
The Thunder (7-4) have won the last two meetings, so there will be plenty of motivation for the Stags (5-6) Friday night at Blue Valley. St. James is the higher seed and is the host. The Thunder usually play their home games at Miege so this game will be moved to a more neutral site and a bigger stadium.
All in all, there’s a ton of intrigue in this matchup and it will surely go down to the wire. It has to, right?! Maybe this game was destined to happen all along, but I’m of the belief that this season there were a lot of signs and opportunities that pointed toward a public school making its way to a state championship appearance.
That only gets tougher next year when Aquinas drops down to 4A, but that’s a conversation for another day.