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The Orrick Bearcats, who waited 32 years between state football titles before winning it all last season, have a chance to make it back-to-back championships as they return to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. The Bearcats, who have been ranked at the top of the Class 1 polls all season and riding a 28-game winning streak, meet a familiar foe as they look to defend their championship at 1 p.m. Friday.
The only two teams from last year’s Show-Me Bowl returning to this weekend’s two-day championship football fest tangle in a repeat of last season’s Class 1 title game as the Bearcats meet Thayer. Orrick, led by Taylor Eubank’s 211-yard rushing day, tamed the Bobcats 20-8 just 367 days ago for the Class 1 crown.
Since then, both Orrick and Thayer have rolled through the regular season heading on a collision course for Friday’s rematch. Thayer’s lone setback this season came in a Week 4 14-7 loss to Liberty-Mountain View. Following that defeat, the Bobcats have won by an average score of 44-12, including a 74-27 thumping of Mcauley Catholic to begin the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Orrick has not missed a step. A punishing ground game and a brick-wall defense has carried the Bearcats to another title shot. Orrick has put up almost 305 rushing yards a game, while the defense has recorded nine shutouts.
One of the few rough spots for the Bearcat defense this season came in the quarterfinal game against West Platte as Blue Jay quarterback Ryan Humes threw for 325 yards. Thayer senior quarterback Jacob Eckman is in the same mold according to Richard. Eckman has completed 74 of his 121 passes this season for 1,253 yards, 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He has also picked up an additional 1,349 yards on the ground with 20 touchdowns. Richard said the 6-1, 190-pound signal caller is better this year.
“He’s a great player,” he said. “He runs the ball very well and he’s good with the short passing game. He’s very accurate. We’ve got to get heat on him and hopefully rattle him. The key on defense is to play well up front and get after him. Let the linebackers and defensive backs make plays, and if he does break loose, we’ve got to tackle him.”
In last year’s meeting, Eckman completed half of his 18 passes for 107 yards with one interception, and also ran for 27 yards and a touchdown.
However, it was a different story in the second half as the Bearcats held him to just 2 of 7 passing for 28 yards while recording 3 of their 4 sacks – 2 by Matt O’Dell and one each from Nick Lafferty and Leslee Eubank, who will be looking for more Friday.
That same type of strong second-half performance has carried through this season as well for Orrick.
“I think we’ve come out with a purpose in the second half,” Richard said. “Hopefully, we’ll start a little better this year than we did a year ago.”
Richard also feels that his defensive unit is more prepared to face a quarterback such as Eckman after having faced Humes and Princeton’s Troy Mienke in back to back weeks.
“This kid is a little different,” he said. “I don’t think he’s as quick and has the arm strength of Humes, but he’s accurate and I think his receivers are better than West Platte’s. I think they run the ball better.”
The Wildcats offense mostly operates with Eckman under center. His favorite target includes tight end Luke Martin who has 35 receptions for 633 yards and 8 touchdowns after grabbing 4 passes for 59 yards in last year’s game against Orrick.
Senior wide out Lance Schneider is averaging 23 yards for each of his 19 receptions with a half dozen touchdowns.
Josh Huckabee, a 5-11, 185-pound junior running back has 1,020 yards and 11 touchdowns giving the Bobcats a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the backfield.
Thayer is replacing four of their linemen from last season’s title game meeting, and Richard adds that the Bobcats are probably not as big along the front as they were, but they are athletic.
His own offense has not missed a beat since last year despite the loss of Taylor Eubank, whose 211 rushing yards in the Show-Me Bowl rank 14th all-time best.
Thanks in part to a veteran offensive line and a versatile group of running backs headed up of younger brother Logan Eubank who has really picked up the slack since the loss of Aaron Blyth to injury.
“He’s done a great job of running the football and Kalija (Rogers) has done a great job of moving from fullback to halfback,” Richard said. “Eric (Rodenberg) has really done a great job of switching around and moving to a new position.”
Eubank has 276 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns the last two weeks.
Richard knows that the Bearcat running game is all based on his guys up front.
“We’ve got to be physical off the ball and get off the ball,” he explained. “If we do that we can move them around a little bit. If we do, we’re going to have success.”
PHOTO: Once again, the Orrick Bearcat defensive line will be asked to put pressure on the opposing quarterback Friday when they defend their Class 1 title in a rematch with Thayer in St. Louis. Cameron McGlothlin (70) and Leslee Eubank (67) turn up the heat at Princeton in last week’s semifinal win over the Tigers. (Photo by Russ Green/The Daily News.