Spartans face uphill battle at No. 3 Rockhurst

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During a scrimmage late in the Battle football team’s practice Wednesday, sophomore running back Daleshaun Coleman took the ball to the right sideline, thinking he found a hole.

When Coleman cut back around a defender to head upfield, he was instead wrapped up and dragged to the ground by another defender.

It seemed like a regular scrimmage play, until defensive coordinator Nick Reichert ran to the sideline, screaming, “Is that Sanders? Is that a sophomore?”

It was, in fact, Shawn Sanders, a sophomore who had run all the way from the defensive line to stop what could have been a huge gain for Coleman. After he got to his feet and received more encouragement from Reichert, Sanders hustled back to the line, went into his stance and got ready to make another play.

“It shows that our young guys are still coming up trying to compete, which is huge,” Reichert said. “It gets me excited, and when you’ve got guys like (Sanders) flying around and (giving) full effort, it makes it really fun to coach.”

For Spartans coach Justin Conyers, these big plays from the young players on his team show he can rely on them moving forward. Battle already features three sophomores in its starting lineup. Plenty more hit the field throughout the game.

The boost guys like Sanders can bring is huge for the team’s depth, especially as Battle prepares to face No. 3 Rockhurst on the road Friday.

“We’ve been used to, in the past five years here, a great rotation on the defensive line, and you can’t drop off dramatically when you rotate somebody in,” Conyers said. “We need young guys that are eager to want to go make plays.”

As has been the case for most of the season, the Spartans’ defense has been a focus in preparation for the Hawklets’ attack.

Rockhurst features big bodies across the offensive line — including 6-foot-7-inch, 340-pound senior left tackle Danielson Ike — to block for senior quarterback Luke Boehm and senior running back Michael Johnson.

Conyers said the Hawklets have always been a fundamentally sound team, stretching back decades. Because they have been so dominant offensively, though, they will stick to their game plan and not try to trick their opponents.

This could bode well for the Spartans, who have been able to focus not on preparing for trickery, but on facing Rockhurst’s attack the way they know.

“We just gotta play fast. They have some big dudes. Everyone on their line is above 6-foot,” senior linebacker Jake Hedrick said. “We’re not the biggest team, but we’re fast, and that’s our game.”

Offensive success won’t come any easier for Battle.

While the Spartans struggled to get much going on the ground during their Week 6 matchup with Hickman, the Hawklets were busy holding Bishop Miege (Kansas), a team riding a 29-game win-streak, to just 13 points.

Since Rockhurst employs defensive playmakers all across the field, senior quarterback Jaren Lewis said Battle will need every unit on the offensive side of the ball to have its best performance of the season. But, since the Hawklets have already suffered a loss this season, the Spartans have confidence that they can match the No. 3 team in Class 6.

“They’re a fast-paced defense, a really strong group. Everything on our offense is going to be big this week,” Lewis said. “Rock Bridge beat them Week 1 and we can compete with Rock Bridge, so I think this is going to be a really good game.”

Over the last few weeks, Battle’s record has been moving in a cycle.

It began with a Week 3 loss to then-No. 9 Rock Bridge and a victory against unranked Harrisonville the week after. The Spartans again lost to a ranked opponent (Jackson, No. 10 in Class 5) in Week 5, then beat an unranked squad (Hickman) in Week 6.

As Battle gets set to face another ranked opponent in Rockhurst, the Spartans know it will take overcoming their biggest challenge of the season to keep the cycle from continuing.

“We’ve got to break the cycle,” Hedrick said. “As a team, when we have adversity, we kind of get a little scared. I think, if we can get over that being scared and we just take the challenge how we’re supposed to, we can do it.”

Battle will head to Kansas City to face Rockhurst at 7 p.m. Friday.

Supervising editor is Theo DeRosa: sports@columbiamissourian.com, 882-5730.

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