As 2019 postseason begins with visit from Kansas City: Southeast, Hornets expect unexpected from 1-8 Knights
Except for their week seven clash with Savannah, the Chillicothe (Mo.) HS football Hornets have spent the past month repeatedly dealing with uncertainty about opponents’ offensive and defensive approaches and personnel.
As 2019 transitions from the regular season to do-or-die playoffs this week, those increasingly-routine question marks – like the stakes – have been ramped up, almost to a ridiculous level, during the Hornets’ preparations for Friday’s (Nov. 2) Class 3 District 8 playoffs opener against Kansas City: Southeast.
The high level of confusion over what or who to watch out for as CHS squared off with St. Joseph: Lafayette and Benton and Kansas City, Kan.: Wyandotte? Consider that raised to the “Nth” degree for Southeast. Stated in the terms of the 1984 “mockumentary” rock-music film “This Is Spinal Tap,” the uncertainty dial that normally peaks at 10 has been turned up to 11. Maybe even 12.
When the Hornets take Bob Fairchild Field at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II in Chillicothe for the opening kickoff at 7 o’clock tonight – one night before the field’s namesake is laid to rest following his death at age 87 last Saturday, not only will CHS coaches and players have a very high level of doubt about exactly what the Knights will try against them, they won’t even have a firm grasp on who it is they’re trying to deal with.
Video supplied to CHS of multiple recent Southeast games shows a half-dozen uniform numbers being worn by Knights starters that don’t appear on the roster supplied to CHS and local media by the Kansas City school. Some players listed on an initial roster sent to CHS head coach Tim Rulo by a Southeast official no longer were on a subsequent one sent to the C-T at mid-week, while others had been added. Neither version had names assigned to multiple jersey numbers of players seen starting SHS games against KC: East or Fulton.
More than subterfuge, the gaps look to be a result of a mix of circumstances involving laundering errors that damaged some uniforms and a transitioning coaching staff, Rulo shared with local reporters after Wednesday’s Hornets practice.
The Chillicothe coach notes Southeast’s head coach at the start of the season – early 2000s University of Missouri wide receiver Sean Coffey – took a leave of absence following the unexpected death of his father very early in the season and has not returned to the job.
Instead, an additional coach or more than one came aboard and indications are at least some SHS coaches understandably might not be full-time or even regular school staff members. Poor communication by off-site coaches with school officials tasked with generating a current and accurate roster, especially in the face of the uniforms situation, could have contributed to the confusion.
As a result, Chillicothe coaches studying the Knights’ game videos were left guessing whether a particular player or two they might have noticed playing well in an early-season game might be the same player or players – wearing different numbers – catching their eyes in a later game or whether they might be separate players who both will have to be accounted for on the turf tonight.
Because of the lack of certainty about specific personnel, Rulo says his coaches and players will need to zero in more than ever on formations and alignments, rather than keying on or accounting for particular players.
“You’ll see a lot of different things out of them,” the second-year CHS head coach predicts.
“It’s more knowing the (offensive) formation and then making sure we know what plays we’ll see out that (formation).”
As for what the Hornets’ offense must deal with, Rulo discloses, “… This week, we’ve literally thrown four different defenses at our offense, just to get them ready for just about anything a team can run.
“You just try your best to be prepared.”
In terms of offensive formations and tendencies, video discloses the Knights have line up primarily three looks – a double-tight-end line with three running backs, either in a wishbone or full-house alignment, a wing-T, or an “empty” spread with four or five wide receivers and the quarterback in the shotgun.
From those sets, the run-pass split seems to be about 50-50.
On defense, the Knights’ preferred alignment is a 4-4 with a single safety and the defensive ends in a 2-point stance to do more reading and reacting than attacking the player across the line from them. However, Rulo reports he has seen or heard of them doing exotic things, including a 9-man line, presumably against an opponent which does limited passing.
While Southeast did not have any wins until beating still-winless Northeast badly last week, it did have a few games in which it was very or relatively competitive. The Hornets head coach says he sees on video a team making halting progress – not surprising, considering the coaching situation.
“They have definitely improved,” Rulo says. “They played really well at the beginning of the season, kind of dipped a little bit as the new coaches came on, but then started building and have gotten better and kind of gotten an identity now and a running game.”
“… I thought, in the beginning of the season, their defense was really strong. Then it kind of took some steps back and their offense has jelled and started getting more points.”
As for his own team, trying to add onto an impressive 7-2 regular season, Rulo reports only senior running back/cornerback Deon Reynolds as definitely out for health reasons, continuing a season-long blessing of avoidance of significant and long-term injuries. Reynolds might be back for either next week’s or the following week’s game, should CHS remain alive, as it certainly is favored to do this week.
As for the suddenly-winterlike weather conditions expected to prevail at game time tonight, the Chillicothe coach says he doesn’t expect it to adversely affect his team’s normal play selection. However, just in case conditions become somewhat more extreme, he has plotted some variations which could be implemented successfully to reduce ballhandling risks.
Should the Hornets prevail tonight, they’ll host either Kansas City: Pembroke Hill (7-2) or St. Joseph: Benton (1-8) next Friday in the district semifinals.
Rulo confirmed to reporters that Friday’s game will be preceded by posthumous recognition and a moment of silence in memory of Fairchild, CHS’ Hall of Fame coach for 35 years from 1963-97.
He also noted the current Hornets team will attend Saturday afternoon’s funeral for Fairchild in their uniform jerseys as a tribute to the man who guided the CHS program to the top tier of programs in the state.