Two of the three most successful schools in 6A history will play for this year’s championship.
Since Kansas’ largest class opened in 1978, only Lawrence (10) has won more titles than Saturday’s counterparts, Olathe North (8) and Derby (5).
The Panthers (12-0) are playing in their fifth-straight championship game, while the Eagles (10-2) are ending a nine-year drought of reaching the finals.
Saturday’s state championship will also serve as a rematch of the 2002 title game, seeing Olathe North knock off Derby, 41-12.
After winning last year’s championship, 24-16 over BV North, coach Brandon Clark addressed his returning players and how they could progress from winning on Class 6A’s biggest stage.
Clark said players emphasized that they didn’t want to take a look backwards.
“They agreed that they wanted to start where that team left off and keep climbing,” he said. “They’ve done a good job of that.”
Atop that list has been Derby’s ability to jump out quickly in all but one of its 12 wins. It has led by 27 or more points at halftime in 11 of those games. Against Manhattan (9-2) and Topeka (10-2) the last two weeks, it has led by three or more touchdowns by the end of the first quarter.
The total margin of victory between Derby’s 12 games is better than any of the prior state trips under coach Brandon Clark. It has beaten its opponents by a combined 511 points, averaging out to a 42.5-point spread per game.
Chris McCartney is in his fifth year at the helm of Olathe North. The longtime coach has been with the program since 1996, which was the first year it played for and won a state title. This year’s qualification breaks a streak of four-straight sub-state losses.
Olathe North has won five games in a row, including a 35-34 overtime win over Blue Valley West in sectionals and a decisive 28-7 victory over Blue Valley in sub-state. Its only two losses came at the hands of Columbine (Colo.) and Lawrence.
“Once you’ve been [to state], there is nothing like it,” McCartney said of playing at state. “There was a time where we were going every year through the late 1990s and 2000s and when you don’t go for a while, you’re starving to get back.”
Arland Bruce IV accounts for a large majority of the Eagles’ total offense. The junior has totaled 2,763 yards of offense (2,359 on the ground, the rest through passing) to go along with 45 touchdowns. That includes six games of four or more rushing scores.
McCartney also said the Eagles returned four starters across the offensive line.
They’re coming off of arguably their best defensive performance to date, limiting a potent Blue Valley offense and passing attack to seven points. Senior linebacker AJ Patillo and sophomore safety Noah Palmer are two major contributors, totaling 146 and 112 tackles, respectively.
Like other coaches that have crossed paths with Derby in the state playoffs, McCartney said their opposition’s film doesn’t lie.
“They play really fast on offense,” McCartney said. “They’ve got some great athletes skill-wise and the offensive line doesn’t mess up. Defensively there are some monsters that fly around and hit … they’re unreal and like a college team out there. They dominate people for a reason.”
With five games of 50 or more points, the Eagles have proven their ability to score at one of the highest clips in Class 6A. McCartney said his players will need to be ready to trade blows again on Saturday.
“We’re never scared and never satisfied,” McCartney said. “… We’re going to come out and compete. That’s what they’ve learned how to do. Our hope is to come and trade punches with them and keep it going. We’ve got 48 minutes left to play and we’re excited as heck to get here.”