This Friday, the Rockhurst football team faces the opponent, Francis Howell High School, that could be a dark horse state champion contender. Despite having a dynasty that lacks the prestige the Hawklets have earned, the Howell Vikings are ranked only two places lower than Rockhurst in the state of Missouri, and sit on a well-earned national ranking of 105.
The Vikings have gone undefeated this season, holding each opponent under 15 points. Moreover, in all but two games, they have scored more than 40 points. Of course, this year the Hawklets have been no strangers to impressive statistics, especially during the playoffs, with an offense that is averaging just over 39 points, and a defense that has allowed an average of just over 12 points during the postseason (this statistic excludes a pick-6 thrown by TJ Green against Blue Springs, last week).
Location: Rockhurst High School
Records: Rockhurst (11-1) vs. Francis Howell (12-0)
Last Week: Rockhurst beat Blue Springs 34-29; Howell beat Jefferson City 14-10
State Ranking (according to maxpreps.com): Rockhurst- #2, Howell- #4
Theme: Duck Dynasty
As often is the case, Rockhurst has succeeded against a more rigorous schedule than its opponent. According to maxpreps.com, Howell’s strength of schedule rating sits at a solid 27, but Rockhurst’s is significantly higher, at 45.5.
Both teams have faced two common opponents this year. The first, Blue Springs South, which Rockhurst beat 42-0, and Howell beat 41-7. The second, Jefferson City, which Rockhurst beat 34-17, and Howell only narrowly beat last week 14-10.
Although the Vikings have blown out most of their opponents this year, they have not had the tough challenges Rockhurst has faced against teams such as Bentonville and Blue Springs.
Rockhurst rushing attack vs. Howell defense
Rockhurst’s junior AJ Taylor and senior Kiah Kintchen have been dominant this year. Just last game, Taylor had all 5 of the Hawklets’ touchdowns, and he has already received an offer for a full-ride scholarship to Kansas State.
Senior Kiah Kintchen provides an explosive rushing threat to the Howell defense, as well. Kintchen has been dangerous both running the ball and receiving the ball out of the backfield.
However, Francis Howell’s defense has been superb this year, allowing no more than 14 points in a game this year. It will be interesting to see how the Vikings defends Rockhurst’s versatile rushing attack.
Rockhurst linebackers vs. Howell rushing attack
While the Hawklets have Taylor and Kintchen, Francis Howell has Northern Illinois commit Sutton Smith. Smith has had a fantastic year. Last week, in a nail-biting victory over Jefferson City, Smith ran for 232 yards on 42 carries and scored the Vikings’ only touchdowns. Smith is a key to Howell’s offensive success this year, which has procured less than 40 points in a game only twice this year.
Senior linebacker Luke Ritter has been the driving force behind the Hawklet’s defense this year. Alongside senior Patrick Thomas, Rockhurst’s defensive skill positions have been nearly flawless this year, and hope to contain Howell’s productive Smith.
Although the level of competition each team faced during the regular season is noticeably different, this is the semi-finals of the playoffs and each team has proven they deserve to be here. Neither side can be sure of a win, although both should enter with confidence. Francis Howell hasn’t experienced a loss all season, and Rockhurst has been on fire, coming off a hard-earned victory against a top-ranked Blue Springs team.
It’s going to be cold, so look for both teams to rely heavily on their star running backs. Whichever team’s backs can avoid fumbling a near-frozen football and can eat up yards and clock, should have a good chance to win.