Friday Night Lights - Two Local High School Football Rivalries are Kicking Off October 12



BVN Quarterback Graham Mertz

BVN High School

As the high school football season heats up, the games against traditional rivals increasingly become the focal point. All eyes will be on Johnson County Oct. 12 when defending 6A state champion Blue Valley North plays Blue Valley Northwest, and defending 4A state champion Bishop Miege squares off with St. Thomas Aquinas. This is the 25thyear that North and Northwest have faced each other, while 2018 marks the 30thanniversary of the Catholic rivals in the East Kansas League.

 

Blue Valley North vs. Blue Valley Northwest

When Blue Valley Northwest High School opened in 1993, it took many students and teachers from Blue Valley North with them, cultivating a familiarity between the two schools that still exists today. Many in the area know a family that had one child graduate from North and another graduate from Northwest, and it’s likely that a student’s best friends actually go to the other school.

So the student bodies of each school aren’t all that different from one another. Heck, both schools even share a home field at the District Athletic Complex. But BVN found a nemesis in Northwest on the football field right away. Because of the split, the Mustangs only had 84 players on the squad in 1993 compared to 111 the year before. In just a few short years under head coach Steve Harms, the upstart Huskies had eclipsed North, whipping the Mustangs 32-14 in 1996. When North broke a 7-7 tie in the fourth quarter to beat BVNW 14-7 the following season, BVN students rushed the field and tried to tear down the goalposts. At that moment, this game really began to mean something. 

Dominance in the rivalry has changed hands recently. In current head coach Andy Sims’ first season with Blue Valley North in 2014, the Huskies won 30-14 for their fourth straight win in the series. Since then, the Mustangs have countered with four straight victories of their own, but they weren’t all easy.

In 2016, BVN opened the season with a workman-like 28-14 victory over BVNW. When they met again during the state playoffs, it was a wild affair emblematic of the rivalry that had taken root two decades earlier. The Mustangs held an early 10-point lead and a 30-23 lead in the fourth quarter, but Northwest tied it with 30 seconds to play. Two overtimes later, Dylan Freberg would haul in the winning touchdown reception as North beat Northwest 39-36.

Senior quarterback Graham Mertz asserted himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the Midwest in last season’s 48-13 rout of the Huskies. This year’s title defense is a minefield for North with what coaches believe is the strongest EKL they’ve ever seen. As Northwest tries to bounce back from last year’s 2-7 campaign with second-year coach Clint Rider, each school knows that in a regular season full of tough games, winning this one would be especially sweet.

 

Bishop Miege vs. St. Thomas Aquinas

Jon Holmes knows a thing or two about facing St. Thomas Aquinas, both as a player and a coach.

Holmes graduated from Bishop Miege in 2002 and is in his seventh season as head coach of the Stags. In his playing days, the Miege program was in a dry spell and hadn’t won a state championship since 1977. But the one game on the schedule they always looked at was with St. Thomas Aquinas, a game that has been nicknamed “The Holy War.”

“I ended up beating them my junior and senior year,” Holmes says. “But now, the crowd seems like it’s doubled in the 16 to 17 years since then, and the level of talent on both teams as well makes it better. A lot of the kids know each other now through playing in youth ball and playing against each other in the CYO leagues, and I think that’s what makes it also good, having an interest on both sides.”

As with Blue Valley North and Blue Valley Northwest, it’s the familiarity between the two schools in general that make the rivalry what it is. Miege students hang out with Aquinas students. Miege parents hang out with Aquinas parents. And a good example of split allegiances is the Willis family: Ryan Willis played quarterback at Miege and was the starter for a time at Kansas, while his sisters, Abby and Lauren, played basketball at Aquinas.

When Holmes took over in 2012, the Saints had won their first meeting that season 27-24. The two teams would play again three weeks later, with Miege beating Aquinas 9-7. The Stags haven’t lost in the series since, but then again, they haven’t lost to anybody, really. They entered the 2018 season on a 25-game winning streak and had also won 50 of their last 52 games.

For that reason, fifth-year Aquinas coach Randy Dreiling insists it’s not a rivalry until you actually beat the other guys. But Dreiling, who came from a powerhouse in Hutchinson, has built a formidable program in his own right with immediate consistency. The Saints were 37-13 in his first four seasons and 11-2 in 2017. Their only regular-season loss was to the Stags, 27-14, and it was Miege’s smallest margin of victory as it steamrolled to its fourth consecutive state championship.

Holmes says that winning culture that Dreiling brought to Aquinas has made the rivalry that much more intense.

“That week is always different leading up to the game and the focus in the kids is always there because our kids know that it’s a big game to win for us,” he says. “Everybody knows what it is. That’s the best thing about our students. They all know, ‘Hey Coach. Aquinas this week.’ That’s just regular students walking around the lunch room. You usually don’t get that every other week.”