DISTRICT SEMIFINAL PREVIEWS: School of the Osage set to battle with top seed Buffalo
To get to the district championship, School of the Osage will have to go through the top seed in the tournament.
Osage (4-6) will visit Buffalo (7-2) in the district semifinals Friday night and the No. 4 Indians will take on a Bison team that knocked them out in the first round of the district playoffs just two seasons ago. At this stage of the season, nothing will likely come easy but Osage coach Devin Johnson said taking on the top seed should not shake any confidence his players have.
“We feel like the conference we play in, we’ve been battle tested against some of the best teams in the state,” the coach said after his team knocked out rival Eldon in the first round of the playoffs, 49-16, last week. “We face good teams, good opponents and we’ll be ready for the challenge.”
A win on Friday night would send the Indians to their first district championship appearance since 2014- the last time the program won a district title.
But, first things first.
Osage will take the field with a Buffalo team coming off a bye and currently averaging 140.4 passing yards, 231.6 rushing yards and 372 yards of offense per game that has led to the Bison scoring 41.3 points per contest. For the Bison, it all starts with senior quarterback Jamen Smith, an athletic dual-threat field general who leads the offense with both his arm and legs.
“Their offense revolves around a few key guys and their quarterback is a very good player and has been starting since his sophomore year. We actually played against him his sophomore year in Bolivar in the first round of districts,” Johnson recalled of a game the Indians lost 27-22 to bring the season to an end. “He was a good player then.”
Smith is currently 61-108 for 1,264 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and two interceptions, making very few mistakes in where he goes with the football. On the ground, he has rushed 101 times for 902 yards (8.9 yards per carry) and an additional 15 scores for a combined 36 touchdowns he has been responsible for in 2020.
The Osage defense, currently allowing 43.3 points per game, will also have to contend with another player who has a motor in junior Cameron Portis. On the ground, he is the second-leading rusher on the team with 45 carries for 482 yards and seven scores, averaging 10.7 yards per carry. Portis has also has 15 catches on the season for 366 yards and five additional touchdowns.
Buffalo’s rushing attack also features junior Jaren Smith who has 40 carries for 471 yards (11.8 yards per carry) and five touchdowns and senior Caleb Bennett has provided some depth and fresh legs with 20 carries for 134 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and two scores.
When Buffalo goes to the air, senior Bode Abraham has been the top choice with 22 receptions for 450 yards and eight touchdowns. Bennett has caught eight passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns and Jaren is at 10 receptions for 166 yards and two scores.
“Offensively, they use their speed to try to get to the edge and they are a good football team,” Johnson stated.
So, containment will be key.
Sophomore Konner Vaughn leads the Osage defense with 72 tackles on the season, of which three have resulted in a loss. Junior Keigan Vaughn has 59 total tackles, senior Tyler Dimmick has 56 with five resulting in a loss and sophomore Jackson Funderburk is also above 50 tackles with 53 and six have resulted in a loss. Johnson commended Funderburk’s efforts in stopping Eldon’s rushing attack last week.
“Jackson played very well and was all over the football,” the coach pointed out.
“We start a lot of sophomores on defense and they are growing up. Every week they are getting better and I thought they took a big step in the right direction this week.”
Sophomore Hunter Graber, who pulled down two interceptions last week in the win over Eldon, said the defensive effort in practice this week would be key.
“We are just going to have to get a good defensive practice and just get up on defense,” he said after Friday night’s win. “Our offense is good.”
And the numbers certainly seem to suggest so.
Osage’s offense is currently putting up 162.4 passing yards, 296.5 rushing yards and 458.9 total yards of offense per game while averaging 34.3 points per outing. It will be lining up against a Buffalo team currently giving up 25.9 points per contest, respectively.
And just like the Osage defense, Buffalo’s defense will have to keep eyes on a dual-threat quarterback as well in junior Brockton McLaughlin. McLaughlin is currently 100-153 in the passing game for 1,505 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. On the ground he leads the Indians with 99 carries for 1,071 yards (10.8 yards per carry) and 13 more touchdowns, combining for 29 touchdowns on the season.
McLaughlin’s top target continues to be Graber who has 36 catches for 505 yards and four touchdowns on the season while Keigan has 22 catches for 467 yards and six touchdowns and senior Drew Elley has 26 receptions for 382 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Out of the backfield, senior Kenan Webb has caught 12 passes for 106 yards and sophomore Eric Hood has caught a trio of passes for 79 yards, all giving the quarterback a solid arsenal to work with.
The “Blackfoot,” also known as Osage’s offensive line, were instrumental to Osage’s win over Eldon last week and have been the entire season with the Indians putting up the yards they have so far this year. Besides McLaughlin, Hood has been one of the biggest benefactors with 95 carries for 785 yards (8.3 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns with four games where he has crossed the century mark on the ground. Webb has rushed 53 times for 295 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and a trio of scores and both junior Jesse Wermuth (18 carries for 96 yards, 5.3 yards per carry, one touchdown) and Konner (six carries for 88 yards, 14.7 yards per carry, one touchdown) can provide some depth as well.
The Buffalo defense has not generated a ton of pressure on opposing offenses, averaging 2.4 tackles for a loss per game, to go with seven total sacks in nine games and this may be a good sign for Friday night if the offense can simply execute and take care of the football.
“Defensively, they run a 4-3 (formation) and really try to keep everything in front of them in the passing game,” Johnson said of what he expects to see from Buffalo’s defense.
An opportunity to return to a district championship game should be all the motivation any team needs and taking out the top seed in the process would certainly help the Indians get one step closer to that goal. It will all unfold when these two sides kick off at 7 p.m.
Buffalo defeated Osage in the first round of the 2018 playoffs on home turf, 27-22.
The “Blackfoot” has to get credit when Osage’s running game is working well in addition to keeping McLaughlin upright and comfortable in the pocket. The quarterback was in rhythm last week with 356 yards of combined offense and five touchdowns, both Keigan and Elley had solid receiving nights and Hood cruised to 151 rushing yards and two scores. All on the same page, this unit is hard to stop.
Buffalo’s dual-threat veteran quarterback has been responsible for 2,166 yards on the season, or about 65 percent of the team’s offense this season. Slowing him down should probably be a top priority. Portis is also a big threat on the ground and in the air and Abraham has developed chemistry with Smith in the passing game.