It’s been a wild, crazy season in high school football. Everywhere you look, it seems, there’s a team scoring 50 points. Which means there’s also a team giving up 50.
Often, that team is the Northwest Grizzlies, who are at once dangerous and and generous. The Grizzlies taketh (543.9 yards and 51.6 points) and giveth (445.1 yards and 40 points allowed).
The Grizzlies’ offense includes the City League’s top passer (junior quarterback Austin Anderson), the top rusher (senior Jahlyl Rounds) and the top receiver (senior Martese Mullins).
Rounds has 23 touchdowns, 10 more than any other City League player.
Yet Northwest is 4-3 with losses to Heights (57-33), Great Bend (58-47) and Garden City (46-34).
There is some justification as to why the defense hasn’t been able to come close to matching the offense.
For one, Northwest scores in the blink of an eye. The defense is on the field a lot.
“If we were taking five or six minutes off the clock with our drives, I don’t know that our offense would be as effective,” Northwest coach Steve Martin said. “That would take away our offensive identity.”
Another issue is inexperience. Northwest lost nine starters from last season’s 10-1 team that lost in the second round of the 6A playoffs to Free State 52-34.
That team allowed two fewer touchdowns per game than the 2016 Grizzlies.
“We’re relying on three sophomores on the defensive line and a junior who has never played there,” Martin said. “We have a sophomore middle linebacker and a sophomore outside linebacker. We knew we were going to have some growing pains and the schedule, adding Great Bend and Garden City, got tougher.”
Scoring seems to be up everywhere. Thirty-three of the 55 schools in the City League, AV-CTL, Central Plains and Central Kansas leagues average at least 25 points or more and 11 are averaging 40 or more.
Only 24 teams are giving up fewer than 25 points per game.
There are, thankfully, still teams that are strong on both sides of the football and Derby is the prime example. The unbeaten Panthers, the state’s top-ranked team, average 48.4 points but allow only 12.7. McPherson has the stingiest defense among the teams in area leagues, allowing only 9.7 points.
But everybody is thinking offense these days at every level of football. It’s been exacerbated in the college ranks, where spread offenses and quick scoring rules.
Northwest’s Martin said he and his coaching staff, who have almost a full two-platoon system, considered adding some of the Grizzlies’ best offensive players to the team’s defense, but decided against doing so.
“I’m not sure if they would be as accepting,” Martin said. “But I think Martese could be a very good corner. (Running back) Jaxson Reynolds could be a safety-outside linebacker. Jahlyl Rounds would be a tremendous linebacker.”
The only Grizzly playing both ways is 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior lineman Joey Gilbertson, who has committed to Kansas. The moral to that story: If you have someone who is 6-4, 290, you get him on the field as much as possible.
Northwest started its season with a 61-49 win over City League powerhouse Bishop Carroll. That win was the talk of the town for a few days but hidden in the jubilation was the 49 points allowed.
Martin says the Grizzlies’ defense has slowly been improving as inexperienced players find their footing. Since giving up 58 in an 11-point loss to Great Bend in Week 3, Northwest has allowed 24, 35, 46 and 13 in games since.
“We’re playing a lot better football right now,” Martin said. “We always thought, even before our season started, that this team would be a lot better later in the season because of our defensive inexperience. So I’ve stuck my nose over there in the defense a little bit more than normal because I didn’t want anybody taking the blame but myself. It’s been frustrating and I think everybody in our program has been frustrated.”
Frustrated because Northwest has one of the best offensive teams in City League history and only a 4-3 record to show. The Grizzlies are likely to be seeded No. 8 for the Class 6A playoffs and that likely means a game at Derby in the second round.
“We could be 7-0 right now and in the argument for being the No. 1 seed in the West,” Martin said. “Last year we won our first playoff game in a long time, got over the hump of winning a City League title and beat Carroll for the first time in 10 years. We’re just continuing to try and get over these little baby humps. We’re building and building.”