By BRETT MARSHALL
Hoisington head football coach Lonnie Irvin is all too familiar with trips to western Kansas and games with teams from the area.
He and his Cardinals have traveled west on several occasions in recent years to either face Holcomb or Scott City in district or postseason playoff games. And they've played host to those teams as well.
And, with one exception, the Cardinals have enjoyed these encounters with their western counterparts. That was a 34-14 Scott City victory in 2006.
Scott City coach Glenn O'Neil hopes to change the Cardinals' fortunes today when the Beavers host Hoisington in a Class 3A regional championship game at 4 p.m. at O.L. Darner Field.
In 2007, when the Cardinals and Beavers were in the same district, Hoisington visited and went home after a 43-15 pasting of the Beavers. In 2008, they didn't get the opportunity after losing their playoff opener to Beloit, 52-20. In 2007, in the first round of the 3A playoffs, the Cardinals whacked Holcomb 55-25 and the Longhorns returned the favor in the 2008 season opener, 25-0, at Hoisington.
This year, in the season opener at Holcomb, the Cardinals dominated an inexperienced Longhorn team, 30-0, as Cardinals senior running back Tanner Klug rushed for 200 yards on just 14 carries including touchdown runs of 41 and 73 yards.
Now, Hoisington makes the excursion west once again for the all-important regional championship game with the winner earning the berth into next week's sectional championship against the winner of the Hillsboro (7-3) vs. Wichita-Collegiate (10-0) game today. Collegiate ousted perennial Scott City nemesis Garden Plain on Tuesday night, 51-20, in the first round. Scott City rolled past Holcomb, 54-6, while Hoisington handled Phillipsburg, 35-6.
"When you're looking for a weakness in your opponent, you just don't find much of anything there," Irvin said of the Beavers. "They're fundamentally sound, well-coached, physical and good on both sides of the ball."
The Cardinals rely on a solid running attack and aggressive defense and Irvin hopes that combination will be enough to stop the Beavers.
"Our offensive and defensive lines have gotten better and we're more confident than we were earlier in the year," Irvin said. "The lines have been our strength and given energy to the team."
Klug has been the rushing leader for Hoisington with 1,390 yards and 16 touchdowns. Quarterback Ryan Bieberle, who started the season as the backup, has completed 13-of-32 passes for only 210 yards and two touchdowns.
"We haven't had to throw the ball a lot," Irvin said. "I'm a bit old-fashioned and we like to keep it on the ground. Defensively, we've been able to keep the other teams from running a lot on us. Our team speed to the outside has been a real key for us."
O'Neil, on the tail end of his third year at the Beaver helm (27-7 record), knows the Hoisington coach and offense all too well.
"They're predominantly a running team and they will run a lot of traps, delays, counters to get you in the wrong position," O'Neil said. "They've got the speed to get to the corner so we'll have to guard the whole field."
What the Cardinals will find when they step on the field Saturday in Scott City is a Beaver defense that has been dominant all season. O'Neil's squad has given up only 48 points all year, and has recorded five shutouts. They limited powerhouse district rival Norton to just six points in a 14-6 Beaver victory in Week 8. Teams are managing just 68 rushing and 58 passing yards per game against the Scott City defense.
"We'd like to be in a high-scoring game, but obviously they haven't been giving up much," Irvin said of the Beavers. "We'll just have to see how things develop. Our defense has done a good job of getting turnovers and we hope that will give us a chance to have some scoring opportunities."
Scott City's "committee" offense has been led by senior Alex Swan, who has rushed for 702 yards and scored 11 touchdowns and also leads the team in receiving with 19 catches for 288 yards and another four touchdowns.
"We're very fortunate to have a player like Alex who can play multiple positions and help us that way," O'Neil said. "But we always like to use others and they each have their own style, so I think in many ways it keeps the defenses off balance a little."
That group includes junior Jason Williams (629 yards, 10 TDs), sophomore Dalton Smith (438 yards, 10 TDs), sophomore Colborn Couchman (270 yards), A.J. Kough (182 yards) and Marshall Anliker (165 yards).
Quarterbacking for the Beavers is junior Ron Baker, who took over the reins at the start of the season when last year's starter, Dillon Stucky, went down in preseason with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and has missed virtually the entire season. Baker has completed 47-of-87 passes for 826 yards and thrown eight touchdowns while also being picked off four times. His other two favorite receivers are Jorden Funk (16 catches, 268 yards, 2 TDs) and Dakota Hayes (12 catches, 262 yards, 2 TDs).
O'Neil said the 4 p.m. starting time was agreed upon by both teams and he doesn't see a downside to the earlier kickoff.
"We get the kids earlier in the day, make sure they're doing what they are supposed to do," O'Neil said. "It's just an earlier prep time but it makes it easier."
Thursday was the last hard practice for the Beavers before the contest and with darkness settling in earlier, O'Neil put his team through drills at approximately the same time as the game will be.
"I guess we kind of practiced like vampires," O'Neil said. "We weren't very good in the sunlight but once it got dark, the kids really got after it. The second session was probably a lot like game day will be. The kids are ready, the goals are set. We know what we have to do and now it's just time to go play."
HEAD COACH: Lonnie Irvin
OVERALL RECORD: 9-1
Saturday at Scott City, 4 p.m.
Scott City Beavers
LEAGUE: Mid State Activities Assn.
HEAD COACH: Glenn O'Neil
OVERALL RECORD: 10-0
Thomas More Prep 55-14
Saturday vs. Hoisington, 4 p.m.