(Liberty Center) -- The 8-Man District 6 championship might just be on the line this Friday evening when KMAland No. 4 Martensdale-St. Marys travels to No. 8 Southeast Warren.
Both teams are undefeated and untested through the first three weeks of the district season. The Warhawks have outscored opponents by a 59.0 to 11.3 average while the Blue Devils are taking quite well to 8-man in their first year, averaging 68.7 points per game against 25.7 allowed.
“When I watch them, they kind of remind us of our first year in 8-man,” Southeast Warren head coach Shane Rowlands told KMA Sports. “They’ve got a lot of athletes everywhere. They’re very confident and precise in what they do. It’s going to be a challenge to slow down that offense.”
The Martensdale-St. Marys offense ranks sixth in 8-man with 428 total yards per game, including 269.7 (3rd) through the air and 158.3 on the ground.
Senior quarterback Jack Franey has thrown for 697 yards (6th) and 12 touchdowns (T-1st), using fellow seniors Troy Holt (251 yards, 6 TD) and Carson Elbert (197 yards, 4 TD) and junior Hogan Franey (126 yards, TD) exclusively.
“You obviously have to tackle in space,” Rowlands said. “They do a good job of getting their athletes the ball in space, so you get a lot of one-on-one scenarios. You’ve to make sure your alignment is correct because they look for that mismatch. We’ve got to align correctly to account for all their athletes.”
Southeast Warren has plenty of athletes themselves. Senior quarterback Tanner Dierking has thrown for 456 yards, rushed for another 260 more and accounted for 13 offensive touchdowns through three games. Junior Cade Nelson has been a huge playmaker with 12 receptions for 327 yards and five touchdowns.
“I think we’ve gotten better each week as the kids figure out their roles,” Rowlands added. “Tanner has a much better understanding of the offense in his second year. He’s in control and gets the ball to the correct people. He’s capable of chucking it and running it. (Nelson) has been doing an excellent job of catching the ball and making big plays.”
Rowlands is also happy with the strides of their non-Dierking run game. Senior Brad Metz is averaging 8.2 yards per carry and has 139 yards and four touchdowns while Jeffrey Oakley is at 5.8, 76 and three scores.
“(They) are making us more balanced, so teams can’t key strictly on Tanner,” he said.
With two of the highest-scoring offenses in the state set for a matchup in Lacona, it might just lend itself to an 8-man offensive shootout.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Rowlands said. “The offenses have shown they can put up a lot of points, but the defenses can both get stops. You never know going into these games. I thought when we played Lenox the last two years they would be high-scoring games, but they turned into ball control, low-scoring games. You never know what it’ll look like.”
Southeast Warren isn’t afraid of a shootout, but Rowlands would love for his team to control the ball and keep it away from Franey and all his weapons.
“I think ball control is huge,” he said. “They can’t score if they don’t have the ball. I think our running game could allow us to control the time of possession a little more. Our special teams are starting to play better. And turnovers. If you can get some turnovers on defense, that can definitely swing a game like this.”
Aaron Hickman will have reports from this 8-Man District 6 showdown on Friday evening. Hear all of KMA’s coverage on AM 960 and FM 99.1 from 6:20 to midnight.
Listen to the complete interview with Coach Rowlands linked below.