By BRETT MARSHALL
Jason Kenny and the Ulysses Tigers are no strangers to big football games.
They have coached and played for league championships, won district titles and have had successful playoff runs.
So when the Tigers (8-2) head into Saturday regional championship game at Hesston (8-2), he knows what to expect.
Kenny watched his team methodically overwhelm Pratt, 32-7, in Tuesday's bi-district game while Hesston upset Concordia, 21-14, in its playoff opener.
The Tigers' win was their first playoff victory since 2007 when they went all the way to the state semifinals.
Kickoff for the Tigers-Swathers game will be 6 p.m. at Hesston High School Stadium.
"They have great overall team speed," Kenny said of the Swathers, who compete in the Mid-Central Activities Association (Ellinwood, Halstead, Haven, Hillsboro, Hoisington, Smoky Valley, Lyons, Marion, Nickerson, Sterling and Wichita Collegiate being the other members). "They're not real big but they've got several players who if they break it, can take it to the house."
Kenny said it would be critical for the Tigers to be physical and attempt to slow down the finesse part of the Swathers' offense.
"Their quarterback (Trevor Pauls) makes a lot of plays and another of their backs was a four-medal winner at the state track meet," Kenny said.
While Ulysses has had its own share of big plays this season, Kenny feels ball control on offense will be critical to the Tigers' success.
"We've got to keep the ball out of their hands," Kenny said. "We've never played them before so it will be something new for us. That's part of the fun of being in the playoffs. It's our next opportunity and we want to go farther."
The 275-mile trip is nothing new for the western Kansas school. Although it is farther than the 147-mile excursion the Tigers did have to make the trip to Clayton, N.M. for a game earlier in the season.
"Going on the road, the kids travel well," Kenny said. "We've had big road trips before and it's just a good Saturday drive. This is what you prepare for. The kids, the school, the community are all excited."
The Tigers' only setbacks came to 5A Liberal in their season opener and then to 3A Scott City in mid-season.
Otherwise, it has been one of the strongest showings by Ulysses since they had their great playoff runs of the early to mid 2000s.
During that time, it was almost an annual ritual for them to not only make the playoffs but make deep runs. From 2004-2007, they advanced to three state semifinal games and played for the 4A state title in 2005.
In 2008 and 2009, the Tigers qualified for the playoffs with modest records of 5-4, but lost their respective opening round tests to Clearwater and Wellington.
This time, playing at home, they bounced Pratt to get to the next round. Kenny hopes that is a signal that his team, and program, is back in the hunt.
"These kids have worked hard and come a long way," Kenny said of his current team. "You try and just play your best and see where it takes you. Hopefully, we'll be practicing next week, too."
A victory sends the Tigers into the sectionals next Friday against the winner of the Andale-Holton matchup.