By Joanna Chadwick
Maize at Maize South in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A football playoffs is intriguing.
It’s the quarterfinals.
It’s 9-1 Maize at 10-0 Maize South.
It’s the Maize school district’s only two teams playing to advance.
They’ve played three times — Maize won in the second round of the 2018 playoffs, while Maize South won the first two times they played.
But Maize South is strictly focused on what it can do and what’s at stake.
“We don’t focus on them,” Maize South coach Brent Pfeifer said. “We focus on ourselves. That’s something that I got from a lot of experienced coaches that have been around for a long time — the more you focus on yourself, the better you typically are and the better culture you have.
“… For us, our focus is the quarterfinals. We have a good senior class, and we want to see them keep playing.”
Maize South’s defense has been the key to the Mavericks’ season.
“Defense has kept us in the game when our offense is struggling,” Pfeifer said. “We’ve had injuries on the offensive side that has slowed us down. That made us be a team we don’t want to be. Defense has kept us in games where we should have struggled more.
“They give extra opportunities to our offense by forcing three and outs, and then they don’t give other teams more opportunities.”
Maize South’s defense starts with its defensive line — Zach Saville, a three-year starter, Peyton Wiechman, Calvin Benefiel and Jadin O’Reilly.
Saville and Weichman have size — combined, they’re nearly 600 pounds.
“The front four all has some size to them … but they’re all pretty quick and athletic,” Pfeifer said. “Sometimes in high school, you have a big kid or a fast kid — but not often have a big and fast kid. We are fortunate to have size and speed.”
The linebackers — Brandon Bowles and Coleman Koehn, along with Colby Herrman and Harper Kennedy — have learned to play in space.
“The guys up front do a good job of keeping guys off them,” Pfeifer said. “… The middle is plugged up pretty good. It’s one of the things they do well, which is read and react really well.”
The secondary starts with Trevion Mitchell, the defensive leader.
“He does a great job of mentoring and stepping up and keeping defense focused,” Pfeifer said. “There will be breakdowns at times, and he refocuses, get things fixed.”
Andrew Wolf, Ryan Hays, Tysaac Noland and Ladislao Jaimes III round out the key players in the secondary.
Maize South is accustomed to being in tight situations. Maize South has four games where it won by seven points or less, along with a 10-0 win over Goddard.
While the Mavericks have won their last three games — North, Salina South and Hays — by an average of 42.3-7.7, their previous seven games were won by an average of 22.1-11.7.
“I like us late in the year,” Pfeifer said. “Our team has been through a lot of tight games, lot of one, two scores. This team is used to being in tight situations.”
The matchup with Maize will test that defense as the Eagles have a high-scoring offense. Maize has scored 401 points — given up 117. The only time Maize scored fewer than 26 points was a 55-7 loss to Derby in Week 8.
“Offensively they’re really talented and have really good senior leadership,” Pfeifer said. “And for us, that’s what we have on the defensive side.
“It will be a fun matchup to watch.”