Fan's Choice: No. 5 Mill Valley to test No. 1 Aquinas

Mill Valley's Christian Jegen (1) & Aquinas' Christian Chalabi (25). (by Matt Gilmore & Mark Moore)
By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Sep 3, 2015

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Joel Applebee, a former assistant for four years at Derby before he took the Mill Valley head coaching position, saw firsthand Randy Dreiling’s coaching ability during his very successful tenure at Hutchinson.

When Dreiling took the St. Thomas Aquinas job several months before the 2014 season, Applebee texted Dreiling and told him congratulations. Applebee, now entering his sixth season with the Jaguars, was very excited by the move. Last fall, in Dreiling’s coaching debut, Aquinas defeated Mill Valley, 34-24.

“It made us step up into another level as well if we were going to be able to compete with a team like that,” Applebee said. “It excites me, because it gets our kids’ attention real quick on what we need to do and play at a high level, especially Week 1 – now that we play Aquinas Week 1.”

The early season victory helped propel the Saints to a six-win improvement to a 9-4 finish and Class 5A runner-up finish to Bishop Carroll. Applebee wasn’t surprised by Aquinas’ quick turnaround.

“I have been around Coach Dreiling for a number of years now, coaching Derby when I did and seeing what he did at Hutch,” Applebee said. “What he’s done speaks for itself. He is a tremendous coach, he is a tremendous motivator, understands how to get kids to play at a high level every day, week in and week out. It’s proven by his record. It was not a huge surprise to me at all.”

This season, Aquinas, with eight offensive and six defensive starters back, and Carroll are considered the top-two teams in 5A. The Saints have finished runner-up three times in school history, ’85, ’08 and last year.

“That’s our kids’ goal,” Dreiling said of a state championship. “That’s our long term goal, and we understand that, in order to achieve that, you’ve got to become a great football team. That’s starts tomorrow night in the Mill Valley game. It’s a great opener, a great test for us, and we will know where we are at, win or lose, by how you play. That will be a great measuring stick to see what we have got to do to get to where need to go.”

Mill Valley, known for its high-octane spread offense, is 36-15 under Applebee, but slipped back to 5-5 last season. This year, the Jaguars have Applebee’s most experienced squad with eight offensive and nine defensive starters. Aquinas plays host to Mill Valley on Friday.

Both teams return star talent on each side of the ball, including Saints quarterback Karter Odermann and Mill Valley signal caller Logan Koch, both seniors. Aquinas running back James Cosentino (1,296 rushing yards) will not play Friday because of injury; Dreiling said the senior is week to week. Cosentino had a season-ending leg injury late in ’14.

“I think they are one of the most talented teams in the state, I really do, and coach Applebee does a good job over there,” Dreiling said. “They have got 17 returning starters. They are going to be as good a team as you play this year, I am pretty certain off that.”

In 2013, Aquinas finished 3-7 and lost 38-6 to Mill Valley in the first round of the playoffs. The next season, Aquinas started with the 10-point victory. The Saints went 4-2 in games decided by 14 points or fewer in ’14, including a 42-41 classic versus Shawnee Heights in the sub-state championship game. The Saints went 0-3 in games within 14 points in ’13.

In 2013, Aquinas averaged 28.7 points per contest and allowed 25.6. Last year, the offense bumped to 31.2 points a game and the defense allowed 22.9 a contest. It marked the best offense since 2010. Dreiling called it a “challenge” to form his team from the first day of 2014 summer camp at Pittsburg State University to the first game.

“The players played positions they had never played before, and they did remarkably well,” Dreiling said.

Dreiling said Odermann has done a “remarkable job” of leading the Saints in the offseason. Odermann gathered the team weekly to throw and run the option game and earned a captaincy. He ran for 1,072 yards and threw for 795 last year. As well, Dreiling said defensive end Angel Dominguez has “really stepped up” his game and should be difficult to block after a four sack season. Senior Chris Schilling (five INTs) is a solid player.

“He has made a big improvement over last year,” Dreiling said. “I think people are going to see that he is a different quarterback than he was a year ago.”

Mill Valley has continually ranked among the top offenses in 5A under Applebee, averaging 42.5, 35.2, 49.4, 35.1 and 33.2 points per game. The Jaguars have several potential running backs in an inexperienced backfield, but junior Tristan Milne should receive the bulk of the load. Christian Jegen, an outstanding two-way player with a 3.8 GPA and high character, had two punts for scores, and had 91 offensive touches for 1,140 yards.

“We are really going to take what the team that we are playing gives us,” Applebee said. “That’s really what we base everything off of. We want to establish the run and then allow the passing game to make us some big plays.”

The defense permitted 10 points a contest in a 10-1 season in 2013 and 23.5 last fall. Mill Valley returns its top two tacklers, and Applebee said senior Anthony Brown (team-high eight TFLs) has impressed in fall camp and has a high motor and intensity. Applebee said the Jaguars have made some weight room adjustments to improve athleticism and strength.

“We really feel like we have done a great job of that in the offseason this year,” Applebee said. “We really feel like this is one of the better groups of kids that have been in our program now for four years and truly understand what our expectations are.”

 

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