When you think of a rivalry, there are a number of matchups that come to mind. They range anywhere from the Yankees/Red Sox to Cowboys/Eagles to Texas/Oklahoma and many others. Most rivalries, when asked, come to mind because you have heard of it recently. What about a rivalry that disappears but still remains one of the best long standing rivalries?
This is the case with Ottawa and Baker. The two programs have a storied history, in fact, so much that both places have footballs or memorabilia in their trophy case proving they have beaten the other. So why don’t some people think of the two as rivalries? They haven’t played competitively in a varsity game since 1993, a 43-9 victory for the Baker Wildcats, but have continued to play in junior varsity and summer 7-on-7 contests. Baker has won 10-straight against Ottawa and leads the overall series 43-31-2. The rivalry renews August 28 in the Victory Sports Network First Down Classic.
After studying paper and watching both teams practice, here is a breakdown of the game position-by-position:
Losing a couple of offensive linemen can be tough. When you lose guys like Matt Pennington, Julian Mendez and Daniel Caldera, as Ottawa did, you cringe. The Braves have some holes that were filled with seniors a year ago. They have guys to put in the positions, but can they perform to the caliber they had in 2009? This will definitely be a question heading into the first game of the season.
Baker has a much different situation, a much better situation. The Wildcats return four starters to the 2010 offensive line. Returning positions include: RG, C, LG, LT. If ever you want a position to have to replace it is on the right side of the line with a right-handed signal caller. Baker’s line will be the reason for offensive success this season.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends:
There is little doubt when the receivers take the field a lot of attention will be focused on Ottawa’s No. 7. Clarence Anderson figures to be the most talented wide receiver on the field in most games this season. The junior earned weekly and postseason honors last year. In 2009, he played alongside Corey Schultz, Taylor Burnett and Zach Schultz. The trio has graduated, leaving Anderson as the feature guy for the Braves. Expect him to have to find a way through double teams much of the season. This should also open the door for Chris Davidsmeyer to have a very successful season. If the San Antonio native can find a way to get open he should benefit from playing opposite of Anderson. The Braves will miss big time tight end Taylor Burnett. They are left with question marks entering the season at this position.
Reggie Harris and Johnson C. Smith transfer Xavier Lewis are set to lead the Wildcat wide receivers this season. Harris will also be handling kick return duties as well. Senior Austin DeGraeve will be in the mix to produce for Baker after totaling 224 yards receiving and one touchdown in 2009. Grossmont CC transfer Kianie Brooks could end up being the leading wide receiver for Baker. Brooks was a high school quarterback so he could do numerous things for Coach Grossner and company. Baker has an unproven, but talented group for the quarterbacks to throw to.
Losing a quarterback can be tough. Losing a four-year starter or a conference offensive player of the year can be devastating. Both teams have the task of finding a replacement for the most storied quarterback in their history. Ethan Haller shattered records for the Braves during his career, Mack Brown became the all-time leading passer in Baker football history….both are gone. So who will replace them? Both teams have identical scenarios entering week one.
Baker has two guys competing for the starting job. Incumbent Zach Foust finished spring practice as the leading candidate to replace Brown. University of Kansas transfer Jake Morris has challenged for the starting job since arriving in Baldwin City. According to Grossner, Foust has one of the strongest arms he has seen in a quarterback. Another advantage for Foust is his knowledge of the system and offense at Baker. Morris has spent time at Kansas and Missouri State prior to that, but has not played a snap….yet. He has the better mechanics and looks like an instructional video when he drops back, not to mention was extremely accurate when I saw him practice. Morris is taller and has better build to be the guy of the future, but if he works hard enough Foust could be Mr. Right Now.
Ottawa has the same situation. Jacob Johnson is the incumbent and knows the Ottawa offense. He learned a lot from watching Haller be so successful. Bobby Adamson transferred to Ottawa from the University of Nebraska-Kearney, where he played in 17 games in two seasons and passed for seven touchdowns. It looks like Adamson will be the guy for Coach Kessinger. He is a solid quarterback and has shown he can be a leader to the team. It helped that he got to Ottawa early and spent time learning the offense before fall camp started. Another advantage for Adamson is his height.
Right now it looks as though both teams will go with the incumbent as the starting quarterback. Don’t be surprised if both teams use two quarterbacks throughout the game. Baker and Ottawa need to give both signal callers an opportunity early to prove who can lead them through the conference season. This position is too close to call.
This is another area both teams lost a proven player and are looking for guys to step in. The Braves have two guys competing for the starting job. Michael Baer and Rashad Tucker combined for 587 rushing yards and three touchdowns behind Andy Otto. Both players expect to get more carries this year in a split role. Andre Echols is another guy in the mix for the Braves. The Pittsburg State University transfer has continued to see his number called more and more in fall practice. All three look like solid candidates.
Baker is looking for a handful of guys to step in and play in 2010. They likely won’t have another Richie Bryant, who gets most of the touches. Scott Meyer and John Babb should get most of the carries out of the back field. Meyer, a freshman, has proven himself throughout fall camp and is listed as the top back. Babb rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown behind Bryant last season and will look to compete all season for more carries. The Wildcats could see a handful of other guys get touches as well.
The quarterback situation is too close to call for either team. The running back position is another one that is very tough to call. When you look at both offenses, you can see the questions both have on offense. For Baker it is quarterback, wide receiver and running back. On the other side the Braves have question marks on the offensive line, quarterback and running back. Sometimes you can look at the skill positions and try to predict who will have a better outcome. In this matchup, I am taking the stronger, more experienced offensive line. When you have questions at the skill positions, you have to have an offensive line that will create opportunities and let the skill players get comfortable. I am giving Baker the slight edge on overall offense because of the returning offensive line.
Baker’s defensive line could be one of the keys to the game with a fairly inexperienced offensive line on the other side. The problem is Baker does not have much experience on their defensive front. The guy with most experience and should be the leader is Kyle Weinmaster. The defensive end totaled 36 tackles in 2009, including 17 for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He will need to be good all season and keep the pressure off the secondary. Freshman James Guyton will anchor the other side of the D-Line with Charleston Dela Cruz and Martin McDonald in the middle.
The Braves defensive front is led by senior Seth Homolka. The defensive end totaled 10.5 sacks to lead Ottawa in 2009. He also added 12.5 tackles for loss. Pierce Hutchins adds experience at the other defensive end position after seeing time in 10 games last season. Hutchins had a couple of sacks, but the team will be looking for him to increase production this season. In between Hutchins and Homolka is big DJ Grayson. With an aggressive motor, the Braves could see big things out of the junior this season.
Three of Ottawa’s top five tacklers from last season will lead the defense at the linebacker position. Fielding Brenner and Josh Hojje led the team a year ago with 95 stops a piece, while Dakota Gettler added 58. Hojje les the Braves in 2009 with 23 tackles for loss. The least experienced linebacker for the Braves is Eric Wilson, who played in seven games last year recording 14 tackles. The Braves have should be a better defensive unit in 2010 with the added experience to most players. Senior Sean Blosser played in nine games last season and will be a key player off the bench for the Brave defense.
Baker is led by 2009 top tackler, Matt Brock. The senior recorded 89 stops to lead the Wildcats last season. Brock will be right in the center of the defense and will be asked to provide valuable leadership for the defense. He will be helped out by fellow senior Calvin Pearce, who led the Wildcats with six forced fumbles last fall. The team will miss Ryder Werts this season who is recovering from shoulder surgery and will miss the 2010 season. Sophomore Eric Wilson will step in and try to fill the spot vacated by Werts.
The Wildcat secondary will be keyed by safeties Colton Miller and Madison Morris. Miller finished in the top five in tackles for Baker in 2009, while intercepted the opposing quarterback three times and breaking up a team high five passes. Morris had an interception of his own. Robert Woodall could get the tough assignment of covering Clarence Anderson with help from Miller or Morris. Woodall played in a handful of games last season and will get his chance to be a major contributor in 2010. Freshman Joshua Fairley is the other starting corner for the Cats.
Anthony Giambona is the leader in the secondary for Ottawa. The senior took two of his three interceptions to the house last season. He is joined by returning full-time players Joey Erwin and Logan Schultz, while Logan Schultz will have a chance to play more this fall as well. The secondary for the Braves has experience and leadership and could be a very solid group this season.
I gave the advantage to all three categories to Ottawa. While Baker has some talented players on its defense that will shine, Ottawa, in my opinion, has the better group as a whole in each category. They are playing with a lot of experience and are much like the offense last season. While the offense has many holes to fill, the defense may have to carry the team while questions are answered on the offensive side of the ball.
Casey Wieder returns with the golden shoe for the Braves (I’m not kidding, he’s wearing bright yellow cleats) for his senior campaign. He earned special teams player of the week one time last season in the KCAC after hitting five extra point kicks and two field goals, including a career high 46 yard field goal. He is a two-time All-KCAC selection.
Baker will have freshman Jared Morss handle the kicking duties. The Wildcats had hoped to name former soccer player Luke Haidarovic as its kicker, but for now will have Morss as the guy. Morss helped Olathe-North High School to an undefeated State Championship in 2009.
Sophomore Reggie Harris returns for his second season as the kick and punt return man for the Baker Wildcats. Harris will be pulling double duties as a starting wide receiver as well. Last season he averaged 14 yards per punt return and 18 yards per kick return for the Wildcats. Harris will be joined by Xavier Lewis on kick returns. Lewis is a speedster is looking to make an impact with Baker after transferring from Johnson C. Smith University.
Clarence Anderson and Shane Gimzo are set to handle the kick and punt return duties for the Braves this season. Anderson averaged 16 yards per punt return and 23 yards per kick return in 2009. Gimzo returned five punts last season for an average of 12 yards per return.
Overall Special Teams:
The Braves have more experience at the kick and return game. They appear to have a clear-cut advantage in the special teams category.
Often time’s coaches will proclaim, “Defense wins championships!” When a game is figured to be close you hear some people say the game could be won in the special teams game. Both teams have some question marks heading into the first game of the 2010 season. Ottawa appears to have more experience and talent on the defensive side of the ball and specials. Baker may have an edge on offense, but it is a slight edge. With the uncertainty at the quarterback position, it really is tough to say who has the better offense.
I think this is one of the more evenly matched games of the season. Yes, the season….not just this weekend. Both teams will be playing for more than just themselves on Saturday. This is a game of renewing a rivalry of two schools separated by less than 20 miles. Baker wants to protect its winning streak that reached 10 games before the two quit playing each other. The Braves are on their home-field, where Baker won the last meeting between the two teams. This is a game that goes beyond football; it’s about school pride or bragging rights during the summer 7-on-7 games. It’s a game for past players who weren’t able to continue this tradition for the last 17 years because of conference rules. It’s for the players on the teams in 1993, who last showed what this rivalry was about. And it’s a game for the players, coaches and fans who were involved in the first 78 meetings between these two programs.
OTTAWA – 24
BAKER – 21