The Maplewood Blue Devils football team came into this season with one goal: to make it back to the Class 2 State Title Game, and to win it this time. They came one step closer to that ultimate goal on Wednesday night as they won their first playoff game of the 2011 campaign, dominating the Principia Panthers in a 38-0 route.
It was not the flashiest effort by the Blue Devils, but it was one of the most well rounded games played this season as they improved to 9-2 on the season and won their seventh straight. The team rushed for over 200 yards, and gained over 250 through the air. Special teams came up big as they blocked a field goal to preserve the shutout, and recovered a botched snap on an attempted punt to set up their first score of the night, a 3 yard run by Kahlid Hagens.
This was just the beginning of a big night for Hagens as he completed 11 of 16 passes for 252 yards and 2 TD’s, while rushing for 19 yards and 2 TD’s on the ground. Hagens was a marksman all night with his passes right on the money every throw, as his receivers occasionally let him down with some drops. None proved more costly than late in the third quarter when Hagens threw a pass to the end zone from 20 yards out, and the ball bounced off the hands of his receiver and into the hands of a well placed defender for Hagens’ third interception of the season.
Hagens’ clinic on passing was highlighted by his 71 yard bomb to Karon Thomas for the Blue Devils’ second score of the game. This comes on the heels of a 72 yard TD connection from Hagens to Thomas in the previous game.
The dynamic Thomas has been the star of the show for four straight games now as he also added a 65 yard TD run in the first quarter to put the Blue Devils up 21-0 as he rushed down the sidelines, brushing off any defenders who dared try to tackle him.
The running game was a big factor as the Panthers’ defense could not contain the Blue Devils’ torrid attack. PJ Grady-Liska rushed for 77 yards, while Freshman Elijah Keely added on 37 of his own.
What gets lost in the shuffle of these blowouts is how well the Blue Devils’ defense preforms. They shut out Principia, who barely even sniffed the end zone in the game. The Panthers seemed intent on running the ball, and Maplewood responded. They gave up yards, but they consistently had pressure in the backfield and made the stops when they counted.
Coach Sterling Finney knows how badly his team wants to win and sees that through their outstanding play.
“Well it’s simple,” says Finney, “You win or go home. That’s enough motivation for our kids, especially for our seniors, and even the underclassmen. We try to do it right now, because it’s not guaranteed that you can do it in the future. We’re trying to take advantage of our situation.”
Finney knows he doesn’t need to do anything to motivate his players, their desire to be champs is all the motivation that they need.
“They’re very excited, and they’re very hungry,” says Finney, “we just gotta take it one step at a time…and see where we end up.”
The Maplewood Blue Devils will play their next game on Monday on the road, either taking on Carnahan, or rival Brentwood, both of whom they have defeated during the regular season. However, Finney says that regular season success doesn’t hold as much weight during the playoffs.
“(Starting the playoffs) Everybody’s record is 0-0. So we have to take our opponent who’s in front of us…and that’s where we’re at.”
Listen to Coach Finney Pregame Interview