Defending Class 6A football champion Derby opened the season with a 48-14 victory over Eisenhower in Goddard on Friday night, but it wasn’t without adversity.
The most concerning problem moving forward is the health of two of Derby’s best players — linebacker Alex McGill and tackle Evan Clark — who both exited the game and sat out with ice wrapped on their legs. Coach Brandon Clark didn’t think either injury was serious, but they could be held out or at least hobbled for a Week 2 showdown against Goddard.
“Alex is the leader of our defense, so that’s a big loss when he comes out of the game,” Brandon Clark said. “Then Evan Clark goes down in the first quarter and a lot of the stuff we’re able to do on offense is because of him. But I thought our guys responded and we had kids come in and step up.”
Derby has set the bar so high in its recent past, winning three of the last four Class 6A titles, it was strange to see the team not deliver the finishing blow to Eisenhower in the first half. The Tigers stayed within two touchdowns for the first 32 minutes, coming to within 27-14 on Seth Golden’s second touchdown run midway through the third quarter, only to see Derby rally for the final three touchdowns of the game.
And if Clark hoped to resolve his quarterback dilemma, Friday did little to clarify the situation. Hunter Igo started the game and impressed with his running ability, then Grant Adler came on in relief in the third quarter and threw for a 25-yard touchdown and added a seven-yard touchdown run later in the fourth.
Clark said he is willing to to let both play quarterback early in the season, but a final decision will need to be made sooner rather than later.
“There’s going to come a point where we’re going to need both on the field,” Clark said. “So we’re going to have to go with one, then move the other to receiver or maybe some running back or as a d-back. Right now if teams want to stop the run, we’re going to go with Adler and if they want to stop the pas, then we’ll play Igo.”
But there were also championship-caliber signs on opening night, as well.
After rushing for more than 1,900 yards last season, Kooser kicked off his senior season with a 100-plus-yard rushing performance and four touchdowns, one including a 94-yard kickoff return to begin the third quarter.
“I give all of the credit to my offensive line,” Kooser said. “If they didn’t block for me, then I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. It felt great to help the team out tonight.”
“I thought Brody made our offense look pretty good tonight,” Clark added. “We missed a lot of blocks and he just made a lot of tacklers miss. We should have had a hat on a hat there, but he has so much bounce and this year he has the size to go with his speed. He did a great job for us.”
Derby also flashed its pedigree for winning the defensive and special teams battle, as the Panthers forced five turnovers and scored on Kooser’s kickoff return as well as a scoop-and-score by Cade Lindsey after Jackson Syring forced a fumble.
Last season the defensive coaches at Derby bought a wrestling-style championship belt to bring to games with a player who scores a defensive touchdown able to raise the belt. In his first varsity start, Lindsey was the one who raced to the sideline to claim the belt and climb onto the stands to proudly display to the crowd what he had earned.
“The belt is definitely something that motivates all of us to try to get in the end zone,” Lindsey said. “I just wish I could share it with the other 10 people on the field with me. I couldn’t score if we aren’t getting a pass rush or Jackson isn’t there to strip it or Jack (Taylor) doesn’t block for me.”
The final score overshadowed a game of mostly positives for Eisenhower.
The Tigers opened the game with its new quarterback, Ty Trudo, and without its star running back, Parker Wenzel, by marching 76 yards to the Derby four-yard line, only to fail to convert on fourth down and leave with no points.
“We had gone 76 yards on the defending 6A champions and I just didn’t think we could kick a field goal there,” Eisenhower coach Marc Marinelli said. “We wanted to punch one in there. In hindsight, maybe we take the points and kick off again. But I thought we could get it and I wanted to punch it in.”
Eisenhower finished the game with 279 rushing yards, led by Trudo’s 169 yards on 21 carries. Seth Golden scored both of Eisenhower’s touchdowns in short-yardage situations.
Marinelli was encouraged by the play, but disappointed the final score wasn’t closer.
“We just can’t make that many mistakes against a great team like that and give their offense short fields,” Marinelli said. “It wasn’t just the fumbles, either. It was my decision to go for it on fourth down, too. But when I was watching us drive the ball down against a talented defense like Derby’s and I was thinking we could be a pretty good team down the road. If we clean some things up, I think we can be a really good football team.”