No. 5 Huskies defeat No. 3 Tigers, 35-21, in rematch of last year’s playoff game

The Blue Valley Northwest varsity football team defeated the Blue Valley Tigers, 35-21, Friday, Sept. 3. Senior quarterback Mikey Pauley and junior running back Grant Stubblefield combined for 377 rushing yards.

Jack Nitz, Sports Editor

Ranked two spots below Blue Valley in 810 Varsity’s 6A 2021 pre-season rankings and having fallen to the Tigers, 24-7, the last time the Huskies stepped on the field for a game, senior defensive back Zach Yates said the team embraced the underdog mentality and imposed the mindset of it being a must-win game.

“They knocked us out of the playoffs last year, they’re ranked ahead of us and everybody was thinking they were going to win,” Yates said. “It was all about the mindset for us. We practiced very well this week and we all came in game-focused.”

On the Huskies second drive of the game, a high snap forced a 3rd and 19 on their own 27-yard line. With no receivers open, senior quarterback Mikey Pauley found a hole in the defense and broke free for a 73-yard rushing touchdown to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead. Pauley said the early touchdown gave the Huskies confidence and proved they could compete with the Tigers. 

“I think [the touchdown] really changed how we viewed Blue Valley,” Pauley said. “We all knew they were a good team, but when I broke that out it showed we were better.”

The Huskies entered halftime with a 14-0 lead after a 7-yard rushing touchdown for junior running back Grant Stubblefield with 5:05 remaining in the second quarter. The Huskies defense was dominant in the first half, forcing punts on four straight drives and not allowing the Tigers past midfield. Head coach Clint Rider said he was impressed by the defense and their ability to shut down the Tigers offense in the first half.

“When you give up 36 yards of offense in a half that is incredible,” Rider said. “That was a great performance by the defense and it was a testament to Coach [Kollin] Ahern and how he prepared them.”

Three minutes into the second half, the game went into a 30-minute lightning delay. Coming out of the delay, the Tigers were firing on all cylinders as they converted a field goal to shorten the Huskies lead to 14-3 and intercepted Pauley on back-to-back drives. The Tigers were able to capitalize on the interceptions as they scored a touchdown and converted a two-point conversion after the first INT and made a field goal after the second to tie the game at 14-14. Rider said the team was focused on getting back into a rhythm and finding the right mindset as the Tigers started to mount a comeback.

“We were focused on getting our mindset back on the next play. Offensively it was just to come out and not turn the ball over and put our defense in a bad spot. The defense did an unbelievable job forcing a couple field goals. We constantly talk about focusing on the next play and kudos to our guys for responding well,” Rider said.

On the Huskies ensuing drive, the team shifted toward the ground game and finished off the 80-yard drive with Stubblefield’s second touchdown of the game, a 5-yard rush that would give the Huskies a 21-14 lead. 

Stubblefield would go on to finish the game with 204 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Pauley would add 173 yards on the ground with two rushing touchdowns of his own. Stubblefield said the Huskies run game is dangerous due to an improved offensive line and both himself and Pauley being threats to carry the ball.

“Our run game was great today and it had a huge impact on the game. When I get tired we can give Mikey the ball to run so our run game can go on forever,” Stubblefield said. “Our offensive line made some major leaps and strides from last year. I’m so proud of them and I love them. I wouldn’t be here without them and they made some big holes today. It was very special.”

With the game tied, 21-21, after a 40-yard touchdown pass for the Tigers, Pauley led the Huskies down the field and finished the drive with a long touchdown of his own, a 31-yard rush to give back the lead to the Huskies, 28-21. 

With just over five minutes left in the game, the Tigers faced a 3rd and 12 from their own 18-yard line. The Huskies made the stop and forced a punt. Stubblefield would seal the game, breaking tackles and stiff-arming a defender on the way to a 61-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a 35-21 lead. Rider said it felt good as a coach to see the team able to enjoy the win and celebrate in front of a crowd which was a first for many of the players. 

“To see our kids happy and to see them compete at a high level in a big-time game with a big crowd, they haven’t had that. There’s high expectations and to see them execute and respond to adversity in the environment we had tonight was special and I am super proud of them,” Rider said.