DO OR DIE BOWL X Presented By Kia Schottenkirk of Quincy
On the eve of our now tenth high school football All-Star game, we take one last stab at trying to figure out how this thing shakes down. To be honest with you, I do this with very little confidence. Every game over the past decade was it's own unique animal and trying to predict how things will shake is a fool's errand. For my money, our best ever game came two years at Flinn Stadium in "The Scott Kroeger Game" as it was as cleanly played and elegantly offensive a contest as you will ever see. Last year, in contrast, was a Defensive Slugfest dominated by Defensive Linemen and Nick Weiman. You just never know....
The West squad leads the series 5-2-1. Our first two years featured a North/South format. The "tie" year was a result of a thunderstorm that just would not relent.
Hope to see you all in Hannibal on Friday. This is our Football Summit and this sport's spotlight moment. Please give these kids the audience they richly deserve for their hard work. It's a fantastic group of hardworking young men, some of whom will be buckling a chins strap for the very last time.
The Seven Best Head to Head Matchups
7) AUSTIN HIGHTOWER/TREY KOTHE vs TAVION BROWN
Granted, this All Star Game may never again see the level and depth of Defensive Linemen this game produced in 2013; but this year's crop of interior guys isn't shabby. Macon's Trey Kothe is a 6'6" 240 pound destroyer who is headed to Division Two National Champion Northwest Missouri State to play O-Line. Austin Hightower is a human battering ram that had 26 tackles for loss last Fall at Palmyra and 5 quarterback sacks. These are two guys who have a demonstrated talent for disruption. And at one point or another, both will go head's up with Jacksonville Guard Tavion Brown, who has been an absolute brick wall in practice this week; a 330 pounder with nimble feet and a great base. If you like a heavyweight slugfest, this war in the trenches is everything you could hope for and more.
6) KODY WOOD VS COREY BROWN
Quincy University's prize Wide Receiving find has put on a clinic for the East in workouts this week. Kody Wood is quick, precise in his route running, and just flat out elusive. And the Jacksonville product catches everything. He will likely draw Bowling Green's finest in passing downs and that should make for a heck of a show. The Brown Boys have created a coverage legacy with Bobcat Football and Corey knows every trick in the book on how to blanket a receiver; or at least how to take their best stuff away from them. And there is no place to hide for whoever losses this battle on a play to play basis because they will both be out there on the Island for the world to see.
5) JORDAN CHAPEL VS GRANT O'BRYAN
Yep, the Wide Receiver vs DB battles seem to dominate our docket this time around. Chapel is your reigning KHQA Player of the Year and those guys have a reputation for showing out in this game. O'Bryan is an All Stater with Linebacker strength and hitting ability. In insolation, this one-on-one isn't just about talent. These are two of the grittiest, most determined guys in Tri State Football and proud, self-made players who achieved what they did because of the limitless fight with which they play the game. This may not be for the faint of heart.
4) WEST PASS RUSH VS LOGAN THIELE
West Defensive Coordinator John Kliewer likes to bring pressure and he's got a lot of different options to do it with here. Quietly, Highland's Alex Nunn and South Shelby's Jacob Trivette have had really good weeks getting to the passer from the edge in practice. And those passers were all guys who can run really well. The East Quarterbacks aren't nearly as mobile. But their blind side should be extremely well protected by Pittsfield's man-mountain of a Left Tackle in Logan Thiele. But size isn't the only advantage Logan possesses. You can't hand fight the kid. He build a tremendous high school career tying like sized kids up and befuddling them for two minutes at a time. West doesn't have anyone nearly that size, nor two minutes to get to the QB. I suspect this thing gets really interesting if Kliewer decides to bring pressure from the inside because he's got three absolutely certifiably "rage" rushers in throwback Linebackers Ben Althoff, Case Doyle and the vastly unsung Alex Hayes of Fort Madison, who has really impressed.
3) EAST QUARTERBACKS VS THE RAINMAKER
Here's what we know of the East Quarterbacks: Bryce Schnitker and Joey McCaughy can absolutely wing the football. They passed for nearly 4500 yards between them this season. And Cole Phillips, admittedly a Wing-T guy in high school, has shown very good touch and decision making in the spread as well. It's an All Star Game and the temptation is going to be to try and get deep at least a couple of times. I would guess for Schnitker, who uncorks effortless rifle tight spirals, more than anybody. And as we have documented, the East Receiving corps from top to bottom is amazing and great temptation to test the back of the West Defense. And therein lies the Faustian Bargain of that proposition. The more the ball goes deep, the more the best Northeast Missouri Centerfielder in the business becomes a factor. Palmyra's Josh Hultz, your reigning CCC Defensive POY and KHQA MO/IA Defensive MVP, got the well earned nickname "Rainmaker" for a reason. He has an outlier skill for making huge plays in pressure moments. See also his eight interceptions last season. He's also big enough to deal with the Jordan Chapels, Eli Pettys and Ethan Petersons of the world, and fast enough to account for the likes of Welper/Robbins/Wood. The exercise of throwing deep on a Josh Hultz led defense is like fishing in Great White infested waters in a very small boat. You may catch something special. Or you might just dangerously hook the wrong fish.
2) JORDAN NUTT VS JORDAN OSBORNE
Teased it for you earlier this week and you probably assumed this would be Number One on the hitlist. It could well be. Either way Friday, we get to find out which Jordan rules. Palmyra's Jordan Nutt is a kid who produces YouTube worthy circus catches and seemingly never drops a football. Quincy High's Jordan Osborne, a McKendree signee, might be the fastest Defensive Player on the field and has both the speed (and perhaps more importantly) the size/leaping ability to in theory play against all of Nutt's well documented strengths. This tete-a-tete alone is worth the price of your admission ticket. I'd venture to say Nutt is a very viable West Squad MVP candidate coming in. How much we hear his name may determine the West's ability to win this game.
1) MALIK BONDON VS MITCHELL NICHOLS
All State on All Stater. Quincy Herald Whig Player of the Year vs Hannibal's first 1500 yard rusher since the legendary Wentric Williams. In Bondon, we are talking about the single best Defensive Player in Western Illinois. And Nichols? Arguably the most talented Offensive Kid in Northeast Missouri. D-1 signee (Bondon is pledged to South Dakota State) vs Truman State steal. Nichols is a running back without peer and without fear and he's going to attack the middle of that West Defense where Malik holds sway. We are talking about two incredibly fast guys here and this battle of wills/skills should be absolutely epic.
BONUS MATCHUP: PAYTON HORTON VS DEVANTE CLARK
Held off on this one until I knew what the injury status was of Jacksonville Safety/Future WIU Safety Devante Clark, who bruised a thigh early this week. Two days later, the speedy seek and destroy DB was good as new. He's also one of the most engaging and entertaining guys in this game, so glad he gets this stage. He will likely see a lot of Horton, who is just so much better in person than I ever realized. A kid whose numbers don't nearly tell the story. I am not sure there is a harder working Receiver, rep for rep, than Centralia's finest and these guys should test each other well.
DO OR DIE BOWL PREDICTIONS BOUND TO GO HORRIBLY WRONG
Illinois Offensive MVP: ALEX BLICKHAN, Unity-Payson
Illinois Defensive MVP: BLAKE SMITH, Pleasant Hill/Western
Missouri Offensive MVP: BROCK BUTLER, Palmyra
Missouri Defensive MVP: ALEX HAYES, Fort Madison
Final Score: WEST 13
Rationale: Something tells me that this will be the year that the kicking game matters most and the East Squad has a dandy in Blickhan, who may walk-on at Mizzou. The advantage that he gives the East is that they will come away from Red Zone visits with points; which is typically the key to a game like this. You have to capitalize in tight quarters in a format that already favors the defense to start. And if we are being honest here, both these defenses are just really good. I told someone today, this is probably the best collection of back seven guys, across the board, we've had in this game. And that may in fact negate what is also an an outlier Wide Receiver corps on both sides of the ball. The lesson from last year: can either of these teams run the football consistently. Tough call. Both teams will hit big plays. Too many weapons not to here. I think the team that maximizes those forays into good field position wins. And I am guessing that Blickhan hits at least one long shot of 35 or better to make that stand up.