PHOTO: Mid-Buchanan quarterback Javan Noyes and Lathrop running back Tyler Paul are up for the Fontana Award as the best small school football player in the Kansas City area.
BY CLINT DYE | THE CLINTON COUNTY LEADER
Currently, in the six Missouri classes of eleven-man high school football, there are 22 teams left vying for a possible state championship. Of those 22 teams, two reside in the Kansas City Interscholastic Conference.
For the second year in a row, the Lathrop Mules (13-0) and Mid-Buchanan Dragons (12-1) are one win away from proudly carrying the banner of the KCI into the state championship game of their respective classes.
This season's success of the Mules and Dragons further solidifies the claim that the KCI Conference is one of the best and toughest small school conferences in the state of Missouri. The rate of postseason success the conference has had is telling of just how tough it is to maneuver through every season.
Since 2010, all but one of the KCI’s eight teams have won a district championship. Eight times during that span, multiple KCI teams added a district title to their trophy case, and on three occasions (2013, 2014, 2018) three teams were crowned district champions.
The conference's postseason success doesn’t end at district play. From 2011 to 2018, the KCI Conference has had a representative reach the semifinals every season. (East Buchanan 2011, Hamilton 2012, Lawson 2013, Hamilton 2013, Hamilton 2014, Hamilton 2015, Hamilton 2016, East Buchanan 2017, Lathrop 2018, Mid-Buchanan 2018). Five of those times, KCI teams advanced to the state championship, and twice (both by Hamilton in 2012 and 2016) brought home a state title.
Adding even more merit to the success of the KCI is the fact that Lathrop senior running back Tyler Paul and Mid-Buchanan junior quarterback Javan Noyes have been nominated for the Fontana Award for the best football player in Class 1 through Class 4 the Kansas City area – a recognition bestowed by the Thomas A. Simone Awards.
The Thomas A. Simone Awards are presented yearly to the most outstanding high school football players in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. It’s a rarity for Class 1 or Class 2 conferences to have just one player nominated, so having two in one year is a major accomplishment – something both Lathrop head coach Chris Holt and Mid-Buchanan head coach Aaron Fritz couldn’t be prouder of.
“It is a great honor to be nominated,” Holt said. “I am positive Tyler would be the first to tell you that he shares this nomination with his teammates.”
“I was very excited to learn that Javan was being looked at for this award,” Fritz said. “This is a huge honor for him, our team and our school. He is very deserving to be on this list with all these great players. We are very lucky to have Javan be a part of our football family and are very excited that he is nominated for such a prestigious award.”
Standing in the way of the Mules and Dragons and their quests for their first state championships are two programs with rich pedigrees in Lutheran North and Valle Catholic. The two programs combine together have a combined 19 state championships.
Missouri Class 2 Semifinal: Lathrop (13-0) at Lutheran North (12-0)
The Mules, who suffered a tough loss in the Missouri Class 2 State Championship last season, rolled through the regular season to a second-consecutive KCI Conference Championship.
From there, they dispatched their first two district opponents (Trenton, Richmond) with ease before defeating Maryville in an epic district title game that ended the Spoofhounds' 67-game home winning streak.
In the quarterfinals, they had no trouble ending Summit Christian Academy’s dreams of a state championship for the second year in a row. Which brings us to Saturday and Lutheran North.
The Crusaders dominated their way through the regular season and first two rounds of district play before winning a tightly contested district championship game over Lift for Life Academy, 6-0. A week ago in the quarterfinals, they dominated Scott City, 57-8.
On paper, these teams are almost identical. Lathrop enters the game scoring 49 points per game to Lutheran’s 48. Both defenses are allowing less than ten points per game, with Lutheran North holding the slight edge, allowing only seven per game to Lathrop’s nine.
Both teams are led by players coming off enormous quarterfinal performances in Lathrop’s Tyler Paul and Lutheran North sophomore quarterback, Brian Brown.
Against Summit Christian Academy, Paul carried the ball eleven times for 260 yards and scored four touchdowns, three of which were over 60 yards.
Brown was just as impressive for the Crusaders, throwing for 380 yards and four touchdowns in their rout of Scott City. Two hundred of Brown’s passing yards came before halftime.
The Mules' road to redemption continues Saturday, but a stiff test stands between them and returning to the state championship game.
Missouri Class 1 Semifinal: Mid-Buchanan (12-1) at Valle Catholic (12-1)
One point separated the Mid-Buchanan Dragons and a date with destiny in the 2018 State Championship last season. That one point has haunted head coach Aaron Fritz, and now his Dragons have a chance to vindicate themselves this Saturday.
This season has been one for the record books for Mid-Buchanan, as they set a program record for wins in a season, with their lone loss coming in Week Three against Lathrop. In district play, the Dragons easily dispatched Polo before eliminating two KCI Conference rivals – East Buchanan and Hamilton – in back-to-back weeks.
Last week in the quarterfinals, they took the lead early on South Harrison and dominated their way to victory, setting up this Saturday’s contest.
Their opponents Saturday, Valle Catholic, also suffered their only loss of 2019 during Week Three before dominating their way through the remainder of their schedule.
The Warriors were tested in the quarterfinals, coming from behind in the fourth quarter to narrowly defeat Thayer, 15-14.
Entering Saturday’s contest, Valle Catholic holds a slight edge in points per game, averaging 48, while Mid-Buchanan is averaging 37. Defensively, the Dragons are giving up only nine points per game compared to the Warriors ten.
Both offenses like to spread the ball around, creating mismatches for their plethora of playmakers, meaning this contest could come down to who’s defense bends the most without breaking.