Over the past half dozen years, few high school football programs have enjoyed more success in classes 3A and 4A-II than the Holcomb Longhorns and Scott City Beavers, respectively.
The two western Kansas schools are intense rivals and members of the Great West Activities Conference.
Success has bred success and competition has bred competition.
The two GWAC schools are once again front and center as Friday’s Class 4A-II regional playoffs kick-off the postseason run of November.
Both teams won their respective districts — Holcomb sweeping Pratt, Kingman and Hugoton while Scott City broomed Goodland, Colby and Concordia.
When the nine-game regular season ended a week ago, the Longhorns were 8-1 and the Beavers 9-0. Holcomb’s lone setback was a 23-14 decision to Scott City in the second week of the season.
Fourth-year Holcomb coach Kent Teeter has guided the Longhorns through an unprecedented period of gridiron success, now owning a mark of 39-7 (.848), which includes a pair of sub-state runner-up finishes (2014, 2016) that were sandwiched around the 2015 state title, the first in school history.
After being hit hard by graduation following the 2016 season, Teeter has watched his re-tooled Longhorns gradually and steadily improve from the beginning of the season.
“No doubt, we knew it would take time to sort things out,” Teeter said. “It was a process to see who’s talented and who would be the players we knew who could be good players.”
Senior Trey Gilbert has blossomed in his final season after moving into the starting lineup as a junior. He has thrown for 1,518 yards and 19 touchdowns (103-of-185, .557) with just five interceptions.
“We’ve watched him grow up and he’s always been athletic,” Teeter said. “Early, we ran him a little bit more, but later we’ve relied more on his passing. Teams have to defend the run and the throw more now.”
Teeter’s desire for a balanced offensive attack through his tenure at HHS has never been more evident than this season’s group, which is averaging 169.1 yards rushing and 168.7 passing.
“I had no clue that it was that close,” Teeter said of the stats. “Early, we weren’t throwing the ball so well, but that’s improved week by week.”
The Longhorns will be facing a Colby team that they spanked 27-0 in the fifth week of the season, when the Eagles came in with a 4-0 mark.
But Teeter is ever cautious about a rematch with a team that has compiled a 6-3 record and has a dangerous 1-2 offensive punch in running backs Jordan Schippers (662 yds., 10 tds) and Calvin Stapp (463 yds., 3 tds).
“They’ve got two big guns and the first game we focused on them, and took them out of the game,” Teeter said. “We need to stop those two again. Their quarterback (Zach Hart) hurt us and we can’t forget about that.”
While giving strong marks to his offense, Teeter said it had been the team’s defense that had been playing well most of the season, recording three shutouts, including a 36-0 whitewash of Kingman (Scott City’s opponent Friday).
“In our scheme (4-2-5), we’ve moved some people around because different teams attack different areas,” Teeter said. “We’re pretty healthy right now, so I’m looking forward to see how we play.”
Despite another strong regular season, Teeter is not ready to call it a big success — that’s because he likes practices, and then games through the month of November.
“You define successful seasons by how you do in the playoffs,” Teeter said. “We’ve been fortunate in the last few seasons to enjoy a lot of November on the football field, so we’d like to make another deep run.”
A win Friday and the Longhorns will move into the sectionals (quarterfinals) where they will face the winner of the Lindsborg/Smoky Valley-Wichita Collegiate game on Nov. 10.
For Scott City, the 2017 season harkens to the recent successes when Glenn O’Neil was the head coach while Jim Turner was masterminding stingy and attacking defenses for the Beavers.
A year ago, Turner took the reins when O’Neil headed to Topeka Seaman and in his first campaign, the Beavers went 7-3 and took a first-round exit from the playoffs by the Longhorns, 34-20, while also falling in the 2016 Week 2 battle, 32-13.
This time around, the Beavers rallied from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit and then held the Longhorns scoreless the rest of the game to rally for a 23-14 triumph.
It was that type of early success that has catapulted the Beavers to an unblemished record as they prepare to host a dangerous Kingman Eagles team that raced past 2016 state champ Pratt in the final regular season game (39-25) to earn the runner-up spot in the Holcomb district.
“It’s been a good season and we’ve made improvements since the start of the year,” Turner said of his team. “Sometimes, we’re off and on a little and maybe we got a little complacent, but we’ve had a pretty good week of practice this week.”
The Beavers are a mix of seniors and underclassmen who have meshed well this season, Turner said.
“The leadership has been really good out of our seniors,” Turner said. “I think after last year, they just wanted to step it up and get better. There was a lot of time in the weight room in the offseason.”
The predominantly run-oriented Beavers are led by a pair of running backs — junior Wyatt Hayes (936 rushing yds.) and senior Jarret Jurgens (707 yds.) and combined for 22 touchdowns (Hayes with 15).
Sophomore quarterback Parker Gooden has also blossomed for the Beavers, improving each week.
“We’ve relied on our running backs to ease some of the learning curve for Parker,” Turner said. “He’s an athletic kid and studies what’s going on and strives to get better. We’ve see strides every game.”
Gooden has passed for 846 yards (48-of-97 with 10 TDs and 5 interceptions).
“The main thing is that our offensive line has been fairly consistent,” Turner said.
Still overseeing his team’s defensive scheme and game-planning, Turner said he has been happy with that side of the ball.
“We’ve been solid throughout, but there’s nothing flashy about us,” Turner said. “We need to be more physical, but the key for us is to take care of the team aspect. If we don’t take care of each player’s responsibility, we’re not gonna be very successful.”
Turner expressed caution about Kingman as the Eagles switched up offensive formations midway through the season and now run out of the old Wishbone formation and it has worked well.
“It has changed the dynamics of the team and they’re physical,” Turner said of the Eagles (5-4). “They’ll come and smack you in the mouth. They have a lot of confidence at the moment. They dismantled Pratt.”
Kingman’s offense (208.7 yds.rush, 36.3 yds. pass) is led by John Molitor (510 yds, 6 tds) and William Milford (735 yds., 8 tds).
“They’re all over the place on both sides of the ball,” Turner said. “They’ll try to give us fits. We’ll have to be prepared for anything. We’re happy to be in the playoffs, but we’re obviously looking to get better every week.”
A Scott City victory would advance the Beavers into the Nov. 10 sectionals (quarterfinals) against the winner of the Nickerson-Clay Center contest.
The site for either the Holcomb or Scott City games, should they advance, will be determined by the east-west formula. This year, for the sectionals, the eastern most school will host the game if both have hosted a first-round game. If either team faces an opponent in the second round that played on the road in the openers, the GWAC schools will be on the road, too.