It’s a Class 4A semi-final playoff showdown for the 12-0 Ridgerunners this weekend as the team travels to Bixby to duke it out with the 10-2 Bishop McGuinness Fighting Irish.
Last weekend in the quarterfinals the Ridgerunners won a 15-14 thriller over Star Spencer. The Grove defense put up a stellar performance in shutting down one of 4A’s most potent ground games.
“To come out on top after a game like that obviously helps your confidence,” said Ridgerunner Head Coach Dennis Millican. “Winning always builds confidence, losing builds character.”
The conventional wisdom is that a championship team is one that prevails in a tough test and the Ridgerunners stood tall in such a confrontation last week.
“We had talked about it all week long,” Millican said, “to persevere in times of adversity. What we learned from it is that we’re a good team because we beat a good team. That’s probably the biggest thing. They were good.”
With Star vanquished the Ridgerunners now turn their attention to this Saturday’s game with the Irish. Like last week this Saturday’s game should pose another strong challenge for the Grove troops.
“They’re an excellent team,” said Millican of the Irish. “You get down to the last four and they’re all there for a reason.”
The Irish offensive attack features some similarities to other teams the Ridgerunners have faced this season.
“They’re similar in certain things they do,” Millican said. “What they do with the ball after the quarterback touches it is what we’ve been focusing on.
“Last week the (Star) quarterback was obviously a good runner and an accurate passer,” Millican continued. “This week the quarterback is what makes them (Irish) go. They are athletic and they have a good tight end. They are well coached. They’re going to line up right and they’re going to do multiple formations and still run the same plays.”
While the Ridgerunner offensive and defensive backfields, along with the special teams, will have a large role to play in any Grove success the key to the game could be the battle in the trenches along the line of scrimmage.
“It goes without saying that games are won and lost in the trenches,” said Millican.
Offensive and defensive linemen often toil in the shadows of the limelight cast by the end zone yet those players’ role in the success of any team is perhaps the most vital aspect.
“The battle in the trenches and what happens up front on the line of scrimmage is not why people watch football,” Millican said. “People don’t watch to see the right guard or they don’t watch, necessarily, the center. Often times they watch defensive linemen because they make tackles and make plays. If something happens out on the edge, a quarterback gets beat, or somebody drops a ball, then everybody sees that and that’s what they watch, the ball.
“But, you know, the other team doesn’t get the ball off if the defensive line gets a sack. And if the offensive line blocks well in the running game then you don’t even have to throw the ball,” said Millican. “The games are won and lost up front on the line of scrimmage.”
The Ridgerunner lines feature a group of strong and determined players who overcome obstacles with speed and smarts.
“We have some guys with a lot of heart that are sometimes out-sized,” said Millican of his offensive and defensive lines. “They line up right (in formations) and Coach (Ken) Kimmel and Coach (Ron) Culwell do an excellent job of getting them ready to play. They find out what the opponents’ are going to do to us and then we try to neutralize that. They’ve done a good job of preparing the lines. The linemen play with a lot of desire and heart and they are scrappy.”
One unique aspect going into the Saturday afternoon contest is the fact that the Thanksgiving holiday and a break from the classrooms precede the kickoff. The Head Coach doesn’t see that as a distraction for his players this week.
“We don’t look at it as a distraction,” Millican said of the holiday. “We look at it as an opportunity to spend time with the family. We’ll still practice and we’ll try to balance both. That’s the way it’s been for decades and we’ll just have to adjust and adapt to that. We’ll talk about it this week.
“The fun part of it is that the team gets to practice on Thanksgiving and then go eat turkey,” Millican added.