The pressure was on Maize senior running back Caden Cox.
The Eagles’ 2018 season was phenomenal. Maize started the season at 7-0 and finished 10-2 with a loss in the Class 5A semifinals. It was a team of outstanding seniors, including three-sport stud Caleb Grill.
How could the Eagles repeat 2018 when they outscored opponents 483-173 with five shutouts in 12 games?
“I think once Caleb left and we had a lot of (offensive) linemen leave and defensive players leave, people wrote us off this season,” Cox said. “I knew, the coaches knew, our players knew that we had a chance to be really good. We were losing some great players, but we have a next-man-up mentality…. We were just trying to come in and be better than we were last year.”
Heading into Friday’s game at Derby (7-0), Maize is 7-0 and has outscored opponents 314-48 with two shutouts.
In 2018 through seven games, Maize outscored opponents 40.4-5.0. This season through seven games, Maize has outscored teams 44.8-6.9.
“This team has stepped up and kept things going, and I’m proud of them for that,” Maize coach Gary Guzman said. “There’s a lot of pressure. The last couple years, we have been very good. In the back of their minds, they knew they needed to step up, and they’ve been able to do that.”
A lot of the pressure settled in on Cox early. The running back was back after a strong 2018, and he was the focus of the offense early as new quarterback Camden Jurgensen settled in.
“We had to run the ball to give our new quarterback a chance, give him time to throw,” Guzman said. “(Cox) has certainly done that. He has stepped up big for us. He runs very hard. He’s a talented runner.”
Cox, a physical back, plans to play at Kansas next year.
“I embrace every challenge and every opportunity that comes to me,” Cox said. “I try to stay humble. If they’re double-teaming me or spying me, it takes them from someone else…. it opens up opportunities for others.”
Maize’s defense has also been stellar.
“Like the last couple years, it’s a fast defense,” Guzman said. “They play fast, they’re physical and they create a lot of turnovers.”
Derby will bring a new challenge, though, with the AVCTL I title on the line again.
The Panthers, who beat Maize 35-21 in 2018 on their way to the 6A title, are also dominating teams. Derby is outscoring opponents 346-67 (49.4-9.6) with two shutouts.
Even with Derby quarterback Grant Adler out with an injury the last two weeks, backup Lem Wash and running back Tre Washington have been impressive behind a big, experienced line.
“You have to be able to move the football against Derby,” Guzman said. “We can’t go three and out. They have so much speed and size up front, and they can score in a second. You have to keep their offense off the field.
“… You know what you’re going to get with Derby…. We know what we needed to do. I’m excited for the challenge. Our kids have played well, and we’ll see where we’re at.