By BRETT MARSHALL
Two of the most storied football programs in Kansas — who have eight state championships between them in the small to mid-size classes — will once again battle for the west side of Kansas' entry into the Class 3A state championship game.
Saturday, with a 6 p.m. kickoff slated at Scott City's O.L. Darner Field, the defending state champs in 3A will take an 11-1 record into its semifinal rematch with unbeaten and top-ranked Beloit (12-0) for the right to play either Silver Lake or Rossville, who play tonight for the east side supremacy. The title game will be played Nov. 30 at Gowans Stadium in Hutchinson.
These same two programs, but with a multitude of different players in the lineup, met a year ago in Beloit for the sub-state championship. The Beavers used a mighty second-half performance to overcome an 18-14 halftime deficit to win going away, 42-26.
But the similarities of the programs, the success of the two coaches — Scott City's Glenn O'Neil is 73-11, while Beloit's Greg Koenig is 73-9 — bear minor resemblances to the teams of 2012. Both graduated talented senior classes, but both return a number of high-quality, and now experienced players on both sides of the ball.
Beloit comes in as one of the highest scoring teams in Kansas, averaging 54.8 points, while the Beavers, who were power-packed themselves a year ago, are putting up just over 30 points a game. Defensively, the Trojans are yielding 17.7 points, while the Beavers have been stingy, giving up just 10.6 points a game.
During their 8-game winning streak since losing to Ulysses in the fourth game of the season (25-6), the Beavers have been even tougher on the defensive side of the ball. During that stretch, defensive coordinator Jim Turner's squad has recorded four shutouts and yielded just 6.1 points per game.
To advance to Saturday's semifinal, Beloit overcame an early deficit to Sedgwick before exploding for a 66-41 victory. Scott City, meanwhile, used a balanced offense (195 rushing, 140 passing) and its stifling defense to knock Conway Springs from the ranks of the unbeaten, 20-7. In that game, the Beavers' defense held the Cardinals to 193 rushing yards, nearly half of their season average.
The Trojans, running out of a tight, double-wing formation, relies on a potent ground game as well, averaging 428 yards a game and 8.0 yards per carry.
To stop what he called a "high-octane" offense, Scott City's O'Neil says his team will have to win the battle up front.
"The first key is to be prepared as to how quick they come at you," O'Neil said of the Beloit linemen and backs. "They're really big on their strong side and they're smaller, but quicker on their back side (line blocking). They do get there in a hurry."
That means the Scott City defense will have to read keys and make its initial push to control the line-of-scrimmage as it did against Conway Springs.
"The biggest difference, though, is Beloit's backs are faster," O'Neil said when comparing runners to Conway Springs. "We've got to find ways to get them in longer situations on third and fourth downs, so they're not always looking at just getting two yards to get a first down."
Beloit's Koenig downplays any revenge factor from the 2012 game, saying that this is simply the next big game on the Trojans' journey of making the championship game for the first time since they won Class 3A in 1996.
"I'm happy with where we are right now because you can't worry about the team you're gonna be playing," Koenig said. "Every team you play at this point is gonna be good. It's nice to face the defending champions I guess, because if you win the game, then you know you've beaten the best."
Koenig said one of the Trojans' biggest concerns is how to stop the balanced attack of the Beavers, as well as contending with what he calls one of the most physical teams the Trojans will have faced all year.
"Whenever you've got an O'Neil at quarterback (junior Trey), you know you've got a proven winner," Koenig said of Scott City's signal caller, a year removed from his older brother, Brett, being in the same spot. "He makes plays, and he makes players around him better. They're very well coached, and they play very physical. The faces change, but their formations are the same, and they are sound fundamentally."
To stop the vaunted Beloit offense, the Beavers will first have to find a way to slow down senior back Bowe Behymer, who has rushed for 1,887 yards and scored 28 touchdowns. But he's not the only threat in the backfield as his teammate Tanner Niemczyk has rushed for 1,026 and 11 TDs. Quarterback Payton Vetter, a four-year starter, has 954 yards rushing and 13 TDs, as well as throwing for an additional 1,013 yards and 15 scores.
"We've got to slow Behymer because they run him to their quick side and they line up and then run to the strong side with a big push," coach O'Neil said of Beloit's running attack. "We have to neutralize the push on their strong side. Behymer's the key, then Vetter is a close second."
Koenig said he had come to appreciate what his experienced seniors have brought to the Trojan program during their four-year careers.
"We've been blessed with good athletes in both the backfield and line," Koenig said. "This year, I think a lot of our new players have grown into knowing what to do and how to play. It took a while early on, but I think now we've gotten into a comfort zone with that. Payton's the type of player who can create things when nothing's there."
Koenig says that it will be a challenge for his potent offense to find ways to take on the Scott City defense.
"They're very aggressive, and I knew they'd be sound fundamentally because that's just the way coach O'Neil has them play," Koenig said. "They sure bottled up Conway Springs, so we'll have to be better than that."
Know the Foe
What: Beloit at Scott City
Class 3A State Semifinal
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Where: O.L. Darner Field
What's at Stake: Berth in the Nov. 30 Class 3A state championship game at Gowans Stadium, Hutchinson.
Last Meeting: 2012 at Beloit (Scott City, 42-26 in 3A semifinals).
State Championship History
Beloit--1975, 1976, 1977 (Class 2A); 1996 (Class 3A)
Scott City--1988, 1990, 1991 (Class 4A); 2012 (Class 3A).
Mascot: Trojans (Orange & Black)
Class: 3A District 14 (Phillipsburg, Norton, Minneapolis)
Coach: Greg Koenig (8th year, 73-9, .890)
Projected Starting Lineup
TE--Isaiah Horton, 5-11, 155, Sr.; Dustin Reiter, 6-1, 190, Jr.
T--Brandon Boeckman, 6-0, 205, Sr.; Damon Tatro, 6-0, 175, Jr.
G--Derrick Koster, 5-11, 195, Jr.; Bryce Black, 6-0, 275, Sr.
C--Elliot Kimminau, 6-2, 285, Jr.
QB--Payton Vetter, 6-2, 190, Sr.
RB--Tanner Niemczyk, 5-10, 160, Sr.; Bowe Behymer, 5-7, 175, Sr.
FB--RJ Jackson, 6-3, 205, Jr.
T--Tyler Watts, 6-0, 155, Sr.; Carter Wessling, 5-7, 145, So.
NG--Elliot Kimminau, 6-2, 285, Jr.
E--Bryce Black, 6-0, 275, Sr.; RJ Jackson, 6-3, 205, Jr.
LB--Jace Adams, 5-9, 160, So.
CB--Tanner Niemczyk, 5-10, 160, Sr.; Gavin Koch, 5-9, 150, Jr.; Colson Reames, 5-8, 130, So.; Bowe Behymer, 5-7, 175, Sr.
FS--Payton Vetter, 6-2, 190, Sr.
Season Results (12-0)
Sept. 6--CONCORDIA, W 48-0
Sept. 13--at Smith Center, W 36-14
Sept. 20--at Russell, W 68-8
Sept. 27--SACRED HEART, W 56-44
Oct. 4--at Ellsworth, W 72-21
Oct. 11--SOUTHEAST OF SALINE, W 42-0
Oct. 18--at Phillipsburg, W 48-27
Oct. 25--NORTON, W 46-7
Oct. 31--MINNEAPOLIS, W 68-13
Nov. 5--SOUTHEAST OF SALINE-#, W 50-7
Nov. 9--at Holcomb-#, W 57-30
Nov. 15--SEDGWICK-#, W 66-41
#-Indicates Class 3A Playoff Game.
Mascot: Beavers (Blue, Navy White)
League: Great West Activities Conference (District 15)
Coach: Glenn O'Neil, 8th year (74-11, .871)
Projected Starting Lineup
WB--Brayden Strine, 6-0, 165, Sr.
RB--Chris Pounds, 6-0, 165, Sr.; Wyatt Kropp, 5-8, 160, So.
FB--Paco Banda, 5-7, 195, Sr.
TE--Warren Kropp, 6-0, 190, Sr.
QB--Trey O'Neil, 6-2, 175, Jr.
G--Cooper Griffith, 6-1, 205, So.; Wyatt Eitel, 6-0, 215, Jr.
T--Lane Hayes, 5-10, 220, Jr.; Cole Birney, 5-8, 255, Sr.
C--Keigun Wells, 6-1, 205, Sr.
PK--Tre Stewart, 5-10, 185, Fr.
E--Keigun Wells, 6-1, 205, Sr.; Warren Kropp, 6-0, 190, Sr.
T--Chantz Yager, 5-9, 150, Jr.; Matthew Tuttle, 6-0, 300, Sr.
ILB--Paco Banda, 5-7, 195, Sr.; Cooper Griffith, 6-1, 205, Jr.
OLB--Sloan Baker, 6-1, 170, Jr.; Chris Pounds, 5-11, 170, Sr.
DB--Brett Meyer, 6-4, 150, Jr.; Brayden Strine, 6-0, 165, Sr.; Trey O'Neil, 6-2, 175, Jr.
P--Marshall Hutchins, 5-8, 150, Jr.
Season Results (11-1)
Sept. 6--ABILENE, W 40-13
Sept. 13--COLBY, W 28-12
Sept. 20--at Holcomb, W 31-28
Sept. 27--at Ulysses, L 25-6
Oct. 4--HUGOTON, W 28-0
Oct. 11--GOODLAND, W 28-14
Oct. 18--at Hoisington*, W 14-0
Oct. 25--at TMP-Marian*, W 51-7
Oct. 31--RUSSELL*, W 54-0
Nov. 5--LAKIN-##, W 43-0
Nov. 9--at Phillipsburg-##, W 24-21
Nov. 16--at Conway Springs-##, W 20-7
*-Indicates Class 3A District Games; ##-Indicates Class 3A Playoff Games.
Points 657 (54.8) 361 (30.1)
Points allowed 212 (17.7) 127 (10.6)
Rushes-yards 639-5139 507-2486
Rushing avg. 428.2 207.2
Passing yards 1059 1667
Passing avg. 88.2 138.9
Passes (Com-Att-Int) 48-96-6 110-203-8
Fumbles-lost 11-10 26-19
Turnover margin +6 +4