Roosevelt High School, Brandon Valley High School Collide in Early Class 11AAA Action
Sometimes it's better to save the best for last, but to start the 2014 season in 11AAA football, that's not the case. Roosevelt and Brandon Valley are on a collision course to meet tonight at Howard Wood Field.
The Riders and Lynx are two of the top teams in the state going into the season and playing each other early gives themselves a sense of urgency.
"It just makes our offseason that much more important. The players know that we have to be ready for the first snap. We can't start slow. That's really going to be a big deal to us and we have really emphasized that for the last month or two. We are getting ready to play one of the best teams in the state and have to be really ready. We can't just think. We got to know that it's time for a ballgame," Roosevelt head football coach Kim Nelson says.
"I think it's good. A lot of times it's good when you can get them early and you kind of compare them or your team can compare themselves to what you are. I mean last year, we thought we were right there with them (in the opener), but they beat us 30-0. In turn, I think our kids worked harder throughout the season and got better as the year went on," adds Brandon Valley head football coach Chad Garrow.
Roosevelt is coming off a loss in the state title game to Lincoln. The Riders return seven starters on offense and two starters on defense. The Lynx return seven starters on offense and five on defense. Last year when these two teams met, Roosevelt beat Brandon Valley in the opener, and in the playoffs.
The Riders think their offense is better and are becoming a lot more comfortable in their roles with many returners from last year's title game. They are hoping to lean on that senior leadership and the speed and depth of their receivers to help Christion in the pocket. At wideout, Jett Thune is surprising, Chase Vinatieri is bigger and faster than he was a season ago, and Tyler Van Voorst, and Ryan Benson are stepping up behind them. Up front, the offensive line with three returning starters are possibly the best group Nelson has had since taking over at Roosevelt. And they will be the key to everything the Riders do on the gridiron this year.
“It's great. Grant (Schmidt) is a solid guy and the other four that are up there, I know are going to have my back at all times. And I'm going to have theirs," says Christion.
The biggest question for the Riders remains on the defense and developing their depth. Roosevelt is playing a lot of two-way starters and with only two coming back, the must develop chemistry quick.
“It's hard right now. We are trying to find out who is going to play. And we are rotating a lot of guys and that means they are not getting enough repetition or share of repetitions. Hopefully, the first game will tell us more and we will know who we can count on and who the best players are,” responds Nelson.
To prepare for the season opener against the Riders, Brandon Valley is doing a lot of conditioning. The front seven on defense, led by defensive lineman Peter Choudek is showing the most improvement. The secondary though, still needs to get better, and Roosevelt's Taryn Christion will be a good test for that unit tomorrow. The offense is hoping to play faster and score a lot of points. Comeaux returns as the quarterback and will have some familiar faces to throw to at receiver. Drew Reinschmidt will catch the ball a lot and Brandon Valley hopes he can help fill the void left by Lynx standout and USF recruit A.J. Garrow. Helping Reinschmidt will be Alex Wilde. Garrow moved Riley Frantzen to the backfield and he has looked good in practice. With their experience on offense and up front on the defense, Garrow thinks Brandon Valley has what it takes to compete in Class 11AAA.
"I think we are right there towards the top. I would place us somewhere in the top four. Hopefully, we are by the end of the season barring injuries.”
Brandon Valley is capable of hanging with Roosevelt and by the time kickoff comes on Friday night at Howard Wood, it will be more about containing Christion than slowing him down.
“Keep him in the pocket and don't let him scramble. He likes to scramble out to his right, and then throw. So, you really have to keep him contained in the pocket and work on their rush lanes,” adds Garrow.
The Lynx figured out Christion two years ago when he was sophomore, but last year the Riders senior quarterback made it difficult for Brandon Valley to beat him.
“He (Christion) tried to rush the ball and we did a great job of shutting him down (two years ago). Last year he ran the ball pretty effectively and we played too soft on their passing game. We let them make a lot of catches on the outside,” Garrow says.
That's what makes Christion so dangerous. He can make you make you pay on the ground and through the air.
"He can run and throw the ball. He's got some good weapons to throw it to and I think that's the key this year. Our receivers have really been doing a nice job in practice and I think that makes a quarterback more dangerous," responds Nelson.
Christion isn't alone, though. Comeaux is in his second-year as Brandon Valley's signal caller and he can make defenses pay with his arm and legs.
“They throw the ball really well. I think they are probably going to run it better and their quarterback (Comeaux) is going to run the ball more, too," adds Nelson.
Like most clichés, limiting turnovers and penalties will be key tomorrow night.
"Early season games, when you go back to last year in our first game with them, they had two scores from punt muffs, and actually in the playoffs, they blocked a punt also. Special teams are huge. I told the kids earlier this week, you lose a game early in the year by special teams, turnovers, and mental mistakes or penalties," explains Garrow.
For Roosevelt's case, getting after Comeaux in the pocket and forcing him to make bad throws will let the Riders offense stay on the field longer.
“Keeping the ball away from them and we need to keep the ball to put some drives together and get some first downs. They are always dangerous. We need to get pressure on the quarterback and sometimes you pay for that if you blitz too many people and there is openings. They are pretty good about throwing to five different people. They get blitzed a lot during the season, so they prepare for it. We have to kind of pick our spots and it would be great if we can get pressure with four guys and not have to blitz too much. We'll have to do that for a little bit and disguise some things if we can, and if we confuse the quarterback, I think we have a chance," adds Nelson.
At the end of the day, both teams will be ready to face each other.
"Really a lot of the pass game because you know they can throw the ball. They have a really good quarterback coming back in Jake Comeaux and we know they are going to have some good receivers as they did last year. It's going to be a fun game, and I think they probably want to put up some more points because we hung 65 on them last year. We know that's coming and they are going us they're best shot and we are going to give them ours," tells Christion.
Brandon Valley is confident they can do just that.
"This year is a lot different from last year. We are trying to go fast-paced a lot. High intensity. Everyone is really focused for this first game. Obviously we lost twice last year against Roosevelt. We really want to redeem ourselves and get our first win this year," says quarterback Jake Comeaux.
Brandon Valley and Roosevelt play at 8 p.m. at Howard Wood Field. Listeners can hear the game right here on ESPN 99.1.