This season has brought unprecedented challenges for a program just hoping to regain some kind of consistency or a routine and now, in order to make that happen, Versailles has to win every week the team steps on the gridiron with the arrival of the district playoffs.
A season unlike any other has arrived at the postseason. Versailles is just happy for the opportunity to play.
The Tigers (0-5) missed four of their regular season games due to coronavirus issues, including a stretch of three straight weeks and the regular season finale at Eldon last week. This season has brought unprecedented challenges for a program just hoping to regain some kind of consistency or a routine and now, in order to make that happen, Versailles has to win every week the team steps on the gridiron with the arrival of the district playoffs.
“It’s been challenging to say the least. We were just talking about how we are not sure after week one if we’ve had our full roster of guys together for a practice or game,” Versailles coach Kirk Hannah said of the challenges his program has faced in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. “Our kids have been remarkable through all of this. They show up every day, which whomever is available, and allow us to make the adjustments we have to make and go play as hard as they can. I am very proud of how they have handled everything.”
Versailles finished fifth overall in the Class 2 District 7 standings and up first for the Tigers is a battle with No. 4 St. Michael the Archangel (4-4) in the district quarterfinals. Versailles will be taking on the Guardians at Lee’s Summit North High School in the Kansas City area Friday night at 7 p.m.
Versailles activities director Kyle Middleton noted that the game will have fan limitations as only four spectators per player, coach or cheerleader will be allowed. A mask will also be required for entry.
St. Michael the Archangel is coming off a 33-13 win at Lathrop last week and the Guardians currently average 30.8 points per contest while allowing 22.1, respectively.
“They look like a well-coached, hard-nosed football team. They have athletic kids and they play hard,” Hannah said of St. Michael. “They run to the ball well defensively, and they like downhill run the ball offensively. They will throw the ball about 45 to 50 percent of their snaps and they do that pretty well. We will definitely have to play a very solid all-around football game to be successful.”
And the numbers certainly seem to suggest what Hannah is expecting Friday night. The Guardians have a fairly balanced offense, overall, complimented by a fairly balanced arsenal with multiple contributors on the ground and in the air.
St. Michael junior quarterback Dillon Zaun has completed 68 of his 147 passes for 1,117 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions and 6-foot-4 junior Mike Haggerty has been his top option in the passing game with 18 catches on the season for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Ethan Smith has logged 10 receptions for 190 yards and a score, senior Michael Stufflebean has 11 receptions for 148 yards and three touchdowns and junior Ellis Edwards has caught six passes out of the backfield for 100 yards and a score.
Edwards also leads the Guardian ground attack with 96 carries on the season for 638 yards (6.6 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. Meanwhile, Zaun has displayed some mobility as the team’s second-leading rusher with 75 carries for 329 yards and three rushing touchdowns, averaging 4.4 yards per attempt. St. Michael also has a little depth in its rushing game with sophomore Chandler Prosser who has rushed 28 times for 168 yards (6 yards per carry) and fellow sophomore Caleb Briggs who has also put up 28 carries for 105 yards (3.8 yards per carry).
The Versailles defense is currently allowing 331.8 rushing yards, 92 passing yards and 423.8 yards per game that has added up to 45.6 points per contest over the five games the team has played. To survive and advance Friday night, the Tigers will need to be sharp from front to back to account for them all.
Operating at its best, Versailles would like to lean on the run if it is possible and the Tigers may just be able to do that Friday night against a defense that has averaged just over two tackles for a loss per game and has racked up nine sacks on the season. Versailles is currently averaging 77.8 rushing yards, 80.8 passing yards and 158.6 total yards of offense per game to go with 11 points per contest.
Senior quarterback Adam Radcliff continues to lead the way with both his arms and his legs. Radcliff is currently 38-70 through the air for 394 passing yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in 2020 and remains the team’s leading rusher with 74 carries for 234 yards and another two scores, averaging 3.2 yards per attempt.
On the ground, senior running back Max Coleman has put up 70 rushing yards on 29 carries, averaging 2.4 yards per carry) and sophomore Ty Edgar has put up 12 rushes for 66 yards on the season, averaging 5.5 yards per rush.
If Versailles needs a big play through the air, senior receiver Michael Bell has usually answered the call with a team-leading 16 receptions on the season for 222 yards and three touchdowns. In his past three games he has logged no less than six receptions and he has caught a touchdown pass in four straight games. Bell and Radcliff have developed some solid chemistry, despite the coronavirus interruptions, connecting for 198 yards through the air in just the past two games. The Tigers do have a few other options, too, with junior Kole Viebrock who has caught three passes for 31 yards while Coleman has two catches for 29 yards out of the backfield and junior Cole Wilson is at three receptions for 22 yards.
Unfortunately, there is no time machine to make up for the games Versailles has already lost this season. What the Tigers can do is try to continue to add more by winning every Friday night from here on out. Should the Tigers come home victorious, a visit to unbeaten top seed Butler (8-0) awaits the following week.
“Our message this week is that we finally get to play one more game. We know what the stakes are- you have to win or it’s over, for sure,” Hannah said. “We feel like we’ve been a little short changed this season so motivation should not be an issue. I think our kids will be focused and ready to play someone who looks a lot like them and we hope that we can go represent our community well.”
St. Michael football records date back to the 2017 season on MSHSAA’s website. The Tigers have not been one of the team’s opponents.
Radcliff and Bell have developed a solid connection in the passing game and it will be interesting to see if that can continue, despite not playing a game in two weeks.
St. Michael has a few options to go to, but containing Zaun is an absolute must and both Haggerty and Edwards seemed poised to be a dangerous duo as well if they can slip behind the defense.