GRANDVIEW — The No. 1-ranked Grandview Zebras haven’t shown any signs of slowing down heading into a week 9 showdown against McGregor.
In District 9-3A Division I play, Grandview has outscored its first three opponents by an average of 45-7 as the Zebras cruise towards a big week 10 showdown at Whitney, also 3-0.
Even though no one in Grandview is likely sweating in regards to making the playoffs as it appears to be a foregone conclusion, the Zebras can officially secure a playoff berth with a win over McGregor on Friday.
But as is the case with Grandview head coach Ryan Ebner, even during his decade-and-a-half as the Zebras head baseball coach, their focus remains daily self improvement.
That day-by-day focus is what’s enabled Grandview to win 18 consecutive games dating back to last season, and the Zebras have been just as dominant this year as they were last year en route to the Class 3A Division I state title.
For the season as a whole, Grandview has outscored its seven opponents, 295-71 — or an average score of 42-10 per game.
Other than a 14-13 win at Malakoff on Sept. 20 in a rematch of the state title game, no one has come close to hanging with the Zebras — a 24-point win over Glen Rose is the next-closest margin.
While that presents Grandview opportunities to pull several starters out early to avoid potential injury while also giving younger players varsity experience, it also may present a challenge to the Zebras down the road considering Grandview hasn’t been in many close, late-game situations. But Ebner said they’ve done things in practice to simulate those scenarios.
“In practice, we do some different things to try to put them in situations where it will help them in the playoffs,” Ebner said. “Game planning-wise there’s certain things we tell them they have to see and execute in a game. We try to use different strategies in different weeks to be ready for whatever’s to come.
“The mental side of it, we have some classroom time and just talk to them about certain scenarios. Other than that, it’s just keeping them crisp. Even in practice, we bring to their attention what their habits are, because that’s what carries on down the road. We talk about that a lot, maintaining those good habits so they’re there when we need them the most.”
McGregor carries an overall mark of 3-5 into Zebra Stadium on Friday, including a 1-3 record in district play with losses to Whitney (50-18), West (31-28) and Teague (42-21).
The Zebras and Bulldogs have two common opponents so far, and Grandview is 2-0 against West (42-14) and Teague (52-7).
McGregor is led by quarterback Veandre McDaniel, who not only leads the team in passing but in rushing as well. McDaniel has thrown for 1,324 passing yards and run for 417 yards with 17 total touchdowns.
“He is what makes them go, and he’s good but they’ve got some receivers that are equally as fast and athletic as he is,” Ebner said. “They put another guy back there and run out of a wildcat. But he runs the ball quite a bit as well.”
Ebner said the biggest aspect of defending McGregor’s offense is being prepared for misdirection.
“There’s a lot of motion and misdirection,” Ebner said. “A lot of their pass plays come off that. Essentially if your guy is a possible receiving threat, you have to make sure you’re aware of that. If you’ve got a guy motioning to you, you have to be aware of that. We have to be patient on the backside. The type of plays they run, they’re looking as the play goes on to see what defensive guy is getting complacent in his responsibilities and they go off that.”
Grandview’s defense is one of the state’s stingiest units as the Zebras allow an average of 10.1 points per game, and it would be lower if the starting unit was on the field for all four quarters.
Offensively, the Zebras have been efficient both running the ball and passing the ball, and they’ll square off against an attacking McGregor defense this week.
“They’re aggressive,” Ebner said. “They’re not going to sit back and try to play ‘bend but don’t break’ defense. They’re going to attack you. It’s not one of those things where you can’t take dinks and dunks. They’re going to make you earn it by low percentage throws down the field. Up front we’ll have to sustain blocks to get the hard yards because they’ll put as many guys in the box as possible.”
The Zebras’ deep receiving corps of Austin Boyd, Cooper Deans, Luke Ferguson, Jacob Patterson and Kason English will have to beat their defenders off the line to give quarterback Dane Jentsch opportunities in the passing game, Ebner said.
“Our receivers are going to have to win their one-on-one battles,” he said. “They can’t get beat off the line. They have to break loose and get a step on somebody, and Dane’s going to have to make a good throw.”
After Grandview’s offensive line was hit hard with injuries early in the season, they’ve found an established rotation up front — Jacob Bayer, Garrett Holmes, Brody Smith, Colten Hoban and Cade Fedor — and have shown weekly improvement.
“They’ve been really good,” Ebner said. “It’s about the cohesion and communication. Once you get out there and play games together, they get that communication and cohesion established. You can see them in practice or games talking about plays. The biggest deal is communication and trust, and that comes with reps. The fact they’ve gotten a few weeks of that now, you start to see it on the field.”
When returning starters JaKobee Crownover and Cole Cannon were lost for the season due to injuries, Smith was the only returner left standing on the offensive line from his center position. Ebner said Smith’s experience and knowledge has been huge for the rest of the offense.
“No doubt he’s been valuable,” Ebner said. “It’s something the others can lean on. He’s been in those battles and played against the best teams in the state. He’s someone who has been there and has the knowledge of being a senior and three-year starter. He’s definitely the leader on that line. Being the center is even more valuable because he’s in the middle making the calls.”
Kickoff between the Zebras and Bulldogs is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday from Zebra Stadium.