By BRETT MARSHALL
It was just a little more than a year ago, early in the 2009 season, that veteran Stanton County football coach Bret Kendrick realized he had installed the wrong offense for the wrong players.
Kendrick, noted for his wishbone and double-wing offensive sets, had a young team and felt it necessary to go to what he called an A-11 formation.
"It was designed to spread 'em (defense) out, and we installed it pretty much for Hugoton last year," Kendrick said Wednesday. "We didn't have the personnel."
Now, though, the Trojans take a sparkling 9-1 record into Friday's 6 p.m. kickoff at Salina Stadium (moved from Ell-Saline's field in Brookville) against Ell-Saline in a Class 2A quarterfinal contest, and it won't be due to the A-11 offense.
In the middle of the second game of 2009, Kendrick abandoned the A-11 and went back to his wishbone and double-wing. It didn't produce immediate results as the Trojans finished 3-6 and missed the postseason playoffs. But the seeds had been sown and his youthful team, comprised of primarily freshmen, sophomores and a few upperclassmen, bought into the change.
It has paid dividends in 2010, and it comes down to the running game that has powered the Trojans to their best season since 2003, when they lost in the second round of the playoffs.
"We just decided to change back to our regular offense," Kendrick recalled. "We always have used it for the 18 years I've been here, so I thought 'Why not? It's worked before, it can work again.' The kids were fine with the change."
An aggressive offseason of conditioning and weight lifting, combined with a cohesive, close-knit group of players, has provided the Trojans a core rallying point for this season.
"It's a community, and we're just a complete team in every way," Kendrick said. "We have kids who stand out, but they aren't standouts. They're not in it for themselves."
Last Friday, in their playoff opener, the Trojans hit the road for Ellis and after giving up a touchdown on the Railroaders first possession, yielded no more points and steamrolled Ellis, 52-7.
"I thought it was going to be a longer, tougher night when they scored first," Kendrick said. "But the kids were dialed in. They seem like they were hungry and took the ball and scored after that. Then we scored on our second possession, and I just knew the kids were in the zone."
Last year's youthful group struggled and suffered through the year and gained some beneficial experience.
"They're not wet behind the ears anymore," Kendrick said of his squad. "We're still young, don't get me wrong, but we've got sophomores, juniors, a few seniors and still some freshmen who play. But they're far more experienced now than a year ago."
Going back to the wishbone has enabled the Trojans to average 308 yards a game rushing while throwing on a limited basis for 68 yards per game. Senior Austin Nairn has been the major workhorse, rushing for 1,368 yards and averaging 12.7 yards per carry while scoring 17 touchdowns. Included in that was a 98-yard dash in the win over Ellis when the Trojans were facing 3rd-and-13 from their own 2-yard line. Marques Logan has added 685 yards, averaging 8.3 yards per carry and has tallied 14 TDs. The Trojans are putting up 35.7 points a game.
"Austin's a tremendous talent, but he'll tell you that his yards come because his line blocks. They are all doing their job, that makes his carrying the ball possible," Kendrick said. "That's what has worked for us this season. Everybody does their job, the team wins."
Defensively, the Trojans give up just 11 points and 198 yards of offense a game. Defensive back Fabian Sierra has 12 interceptions, among the leaders in Kansas this season.
Kendrick said some of his players have commented about being in the underdog role, but he downplays such things.
"We've been flying under the radar, hugging the ground," Kendrick said. "We're carrying our own flag, for Stanton County, and just want to do the best we possibly can and go as far as possible."
In Ell-Saline, the Trojans will find a team that is 5-5, having come off an 8-3 season in 2009 when they reached the second round of the playoffs.
The Cardinals have had a roller-coaster season, losing three of their first four games, but rallying to win their final two district games and earning a playoff berth as runner-up (LaCrosse was the district champion). The Redbirds toppled Sacred Heart of Salina, 14-3, in their opening round game last Friday. Two of their losses, though, have come to Class 3A Hutchinson Trinity and unbeaten 2A LaCrosse.
Who: Stanton County Trojans
What: Class 2A Quarterfinals
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Salina Stadium, E. Crawford Street
Starting Offense — RB-Austin Nairn, 180, Sr.; Marcus Perez, 165, Sr.; Marques Logan, 190, So.; QB-Quinn Kendrick, 165, So.; OL-Colby Overturf, 185, So.; Tarquin Trujillo, 180, Jr.; Edgar Navarro, 205, Sr.; D.J. Logan, 195, Sr.; Eric Shironaka, 205, Sr.; Will Caswell, 230, Sr.; TE-Kyle Rodriguez, 175, So.
Starting Defense — DB-Nairn, Seth Holliday, 145, Jr.; Fabian Sierra, 165, Jr.; Kendrick; LB-Logan; Trujillo; Caswell; DL-Shironaka; Logan; Navarro; Overturf.
Season Results — Lakin, W 26-16; Wichita County, W 30-0; Atwood-Rawlins Co., W 50-12; Southwestern Heights, W 44-26; Meade, L 6-46; Sublette, W 47-18; Elkhart, W 14-0; Syracuse, W 46-0; Satanta, W 42-0; Ellis, W 52-7.
Ell-Saline Season Results — Bennington, W 41-0; Hutchinson Trinity, L 16-55; Whitewater-Remington, L 6-56; Sedgwick, L 32-62; Ellinwood, W 44-22; Plainville, L 28-36; LaCrosse, L 20-30; Inman, W 42-27; Moundridge, W 40-35; Salina-Sacred Heart, W 14-3.