2017 district playoff game is rematch of 2008 clash which storm stretched over two nights
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
One thing seems certain about tonight’s high school football playoffs game in Chillicothe between the host Hornets and Kansas City: Pembroke Hill: The visiting Raiders won’t end up having to make two trips here, like they chose to do nine years ago.
The schools’ teams met at the original Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium in the first round of the state playoffs, played then on a Wednesday night, in early November 2008. With Chillicothe ahead 28-0 at halftime – missing a 35-points lead that would have left the second half to open with “running-clock” procedures in use by the margin of a downfield blocking penalty that erased a fifth CHS TD, a thunderstorm arrived.
After the second half began in rain, lightning caused first a delay and eventually a suspension when Pembroke Hill – despite the large deficit and little realistic prospect of victory – insisted on playing the game out to its end the following night.
The Raiders made the 90-minutes-plus trip (one way) again late that Thursday afternoon to play out the final 19 minutes of game time – a segment which, with Chillicothe soon expanding its lead to 35 points en route to a final 42-0 victory, took only a half-hour of actual time to complete before PHHS traveled another 11⁄2 hours back home.
According to weather forecasters, while temperatures for tonight’s Class 3 District 8 semifinals game at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II will be much, much colder than either team has played in previously in 2017, there’s no chance of weather-related interruption, so the Kansas City team will need make only one trip this time.
Whether the outcome will be different from the 2008 contest is less certain.
While the Hornets enter looking to continue an outstanding 9-1 season to date, PHHS’ Raiders come in with a similar 8-2 mark.
The pairing pits CHS, which earned the district’s top seeding during the regular season, against the team which produced the third-best rating, but became the No. 4 seed when it lost its regular-season finale to KC: St. Pius X.
That result left SPX with the fourth rating behind Pembroke Hill, but, by Missouri State High School Activities Association playoffs-system rule, because St. Pius X had won, head-to-head, over the team above it, it received the higher seed. As a result, St. Pius X – a victor over Richmond in last week’s first round of district play – will be at Maryville tonight, rather than in Chillicothe.
Pembroke Hill’s shiny record doesn’t include any wins over notably-strong teams. Likely the best team the Raiders have met previously – KC: Center – defeated it 28-7 early on.
There is a common foe with Chillicothe, however.
Pembroke Hill began the season by nipping St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond 30-27. Four weeks later, CHS handled the same Golden Eagles 42-8.
The Raiders’ advancement to tonight’s game was shaky as, at home, it barely slipped past KC: Central 36-28 last week.
Personnel-wise, Pembroke Hill seems to have some dangerous backs, but the offensive and defensive lines it started last week are smallish – none bigger than 210 pounds – and somewhat young.
The Raiders’ “O” line against Central included a 165-pounds freshman guard and 180-pounds sophomore tackle. A sophomore also started at defensive end.
Hornets head coach Phil Willard cautions, however, that there are indications some PHHS starting linemen missed last weeks game with injury and might be back to face the Hornets.
“I know they’ve had some guys in and out with injuries, so that’s going to be a big key – who they have in and who they don’t have in.”
Pembroke Hill’s starting quarterback Bert Bean and tailback Yakini Kasimu – both seniors – are capable of creating big plays, if they get room.
“They’ve got the skill people to do some damage, if you’re not paying attention,” the CHS head coach shares.
“Their offense is built around their quarterback to do multiple things. One of the most dangerous things we think he does is scramble. We were worried about that with Diego Bernard (of St. Joseph: Lafayette), (Bean) does a lot of those same things. He’s tall and you can tell he has good speed.”
Bean scrambled for a couple of touchdowns against a quick Central defense a week ago.
“The quarterback is definitely a worry,” Willard affirms. “He likes to run the football a lot on the (zone-read) option. He does a great job of scrambling and he has a good arm and some tall receivers.”
Kasimu tends to used mostly for off-tackle and outside running plays and shows good balance, strength, and speed. However, he also coughed the ball up on two occasions against Central, so the Hornets likely will be looking to get good “pops” on him that could cause a turnover.
Formation recognition, sound tackling fundamentals, and pursuit discipline will be important for his team, the Chillicothe coach says, because Pembroke Hill, still coached by Sam Knopik as it was in 2008, isn’t afraid to try a wide variety of formations and plays.
As with Cameron last week, which switched 300-pounds lineman Joseph Bryant to fullback in a desperation gambit, Pembroke Hill’s underdog status gives it leeway to gamble often.
“It’s going to be a big challenge to our defense, because they do have a lot of formations,” Willard reports. “I think coach Nagel charted 12 different formations and 99 different plays.
“No telling what we’re going to see. We’ve just got to be ready.”
For the most part, Pembroke Hill splits both of its ends and sets two of its backs as wings/slots with Bean in the “pistol” and Kasimu offset just behind him.
There are occasions when 205-pounds Quinn Brandmeyer will be in the backfield as a fullback. Bean, meanwhile, lined up as a running back and wide receiver some against Central with junior Joe Graves at quarterback.
Defensively, Willard anticipates the Raiders will line up in a 5-man front against the Hornets’ double-tight-end basic formation. Chances are good, if they do, they’ll keep the 3-linebackers look they had against Central, giving them eight defenders close to the line.
“We’re going to have to adjust. We always do,” the Hornets coach said of getting an early feel for Pembroke Hill’s defensive approach. “That’s the great thing about having an offensive line that has some experience. They’re doing a great job of communicating and we’ve seen a lot of different things thrown at us.”
Given the significant drop in temperature from previous games and – except for this past Tuesday – practices this week, ball security as hands get drier and less flexible and the ball gets harder could be a “wild-card” factor.
“Our first cold snap’s always a worry about handling the ball,” concedes Willard.