When the Scott City Beavers travel Friday to Holcomb to face the Holcomb Longhorns, the Class 4A-II semifinal game will perhaps be the Great West Activities Conference version of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys.
No matter how one looks at the matchup of the No. 1-ranked Beavers (11-0) and the No. 2-ranked Longhorns (10-1), there is one certainty: a GWAC school will play for the state championship on Nov. 25 in Salina.
Kickoff for what many say is the biggest game involving area schools in years will be 7 p.m. Friday at Holcomb High School’s stadium.
These two schools are not strangers.
They annually meet in the early schedule of each football season, and this year it was week two in Scott City, where the Beavers dug themselves a 14-0 hole early in the second quarter before rallying for a 23-14 victory over the Longhorns, the lone loss for Holcomb.
Both swept through their district playoffs with 3-0 records, Holcomb having perhaps the toughest road there, knocking off defending state champion Pratt, 19-14, to secure the district title.
Once the playoffs got under way on Nov. 3, it has been a dominating performance by the Longhorns, rolling past Colby, 46-15, and then putting away Smoky Valley, 26-6, last Friday in a road sectional championship battle.
The Beavers, meanwhile, have shown their resilience on several occasions during the campaign, coming from down 14-7 at halftime against Kingman in their playoff opener before winning 21-14. They went on the road last week and jumped out to a 21-0 lead, before holding off a late Clay Center charge for a 21-13 triumph.
Those two triumphs set up the rematch that will determine which team moves on, and which teams checks in its equipment on Monday.
Both Holcomb coach Kent Teeter and Scott City coach Jim Turner see the game as a big challenge, and opportunity — rivalry pride, GWAC pride, western Kansas pride, all on the line.
Still, each coach says they’ve tried to downplay much of the hype as their teams go through the "normal" week of practice in preparation.
“You look at scouting reports just like you normally do,” Teeter said on Tuesday. “You ask yourself, ‘What are they doing differently?' and at the end of the day, you tell yourself they’re probably good at the same things … it just may look different.’”
Nearly 10 weeks ago, Holcomb scored midway through the first quarter, and then early in the second when Chance Rodriguez picked up a fumble and returned it 23 yards to put the Longhorns up 14-0.
But the Beavers erupted for 17 points before halftime and then iced the win with a late fourth-quarter TD run by Wyatt Hayes.
“That’s the thing you have to be careful about,” said Scott City’s Turner. “Things have probably changed with both teams, not so much about what they do, but changes in rotations. In the first game, both only had one film to look at to prepare. Now, we’ve got multiple films to review.”
The teams, in many ways, are mirror-images, but they arrive at the final view in different fashions.
The Beavers average just above 30 points per game compared to 27 for the Longhorns. Scott City yields just more than 9 points per game to Holcomb’s just less than 8.
But that’s where the similarities end.
Scott City uses a ball control, run-oriented offense, averaging 255 yards on the ground and 87 yards in the air. Holcomb, conversely, is about as balanced as an offense can get — 169.0 yards on the ground, and 169.7 through the air for a total of 338.7 yards a game.
“You see what they’re gonna do, and I don’t think any of us have changed much since the first game,” Turner said. “I’m sure they feel like we do in that we’re a better team than we were in the second game, and I’m sure they are too.”
Teeter concurred with his counterpart.
“They’ll do a better job this time around,” Teeter said of Scott City. “If you’re playing this late in the season, you’re doing a lot of good things. I don’t see us changing much, honestly, because we’re gonna do what we do good and you hope that it’s good enough.”
And yet, both coaches agree that they cannot become one dimensional or predictable in what they do on offense or defense.
“You try to learn from what you did in the first game, but then you try to forget that you played them,” Teeter said.
For Teeter and the Longhorns, the November of his four seasons at the HHS helm have been all about playing deep into the month.
In each of his four campaigns, the Longhorns have reached the semifinal round, losing to Andale in 2014, beating Andale in 2015, and losing to Pratt in 2016.
Andale and Pratt ended up as state champions those years while the Longhorns won it all in 2015, shutting out Holton, 21-0, in what has become known as the Ice Bowl. It is the Longhorns’ lone state football crown.
Scott City, meanwhile, last played in a state title game in 2014, when the Beavers lost to Rossville, 21-14, in the Class 3A championship. Two years prior to that, on the same Gowans Stadium turf in Hutchinson, the Beavers rallied from a 21-0 deficit to beat Silver Lake 28-21.
The Scott City offense begins and usually ends with its running back tandem of Wyatt Hayes and Jarret Jurgens. Hayes tops the rush list for Turner with 1,082 yards and 17 touchdowns while Jurgens has 954 yards and 12 TDs. Marshall Faurot is the top receiver with 18 catches for 442 yards, eight of those, however, have gone for scores. Sophomore QB Parker Gooden has completed 50 percent of his passes (57-of-114) for 972 yards and 11 TDs, and suffered five interceptions.
Holcomb’s balanced offense, which has even surprised Teeter at times, is ignited by senior quarterback Trey Gilbert. All Gilbert has done is throw for 1,867 yards off 127-of-218 (58.3 percent) passes, accounting for 23 touchdowns and just six picks.
“Holcomb’s very balanced, and this week we’ve gotta stop more of what they do, but certainly when they do both well, it adds to the challenge of your defense,” Turner said. “Defensively, they’ve played well. They’ve got good linebackers and it’s a typical Holcomb team. They’ll play hard, they’re scrappy and they’ve got good skill players.”
Gilbert’s favorite receiver is not difficult to identify as he’s found Chance Rodriguez for 42 catches for 615 yards and 10 TDs. But Carter Blackburn (23 for 344, four scores) and Andrew Morss (20 catches, 369 yards, four TDs) also are threats to break deep routes. Peyton Leonard is another big-play receiver with 17 catches for 248 yards and a pair of scores.
The running game for the Longhorns revolves around senior Kaden Tichenor, who has lugged the ball the most (102 carries, 753 yds, five tds) while Reece Morss has 411 yards and eight TDs. Gilbert, too, has shown his all-around skill with 102 carries for 405 yards and five TDs.
Both coaches also hope to avoid the yellow flag coming out of the official’s pocket this time around, as the Longhorns were whistled 10 times for 75 yards, while the Beavers were tagged 15 times for 129 yards.
“There was no rhythm, no flow to the game because of all the penalties,” Turner said. “I hope we both play a cleaner game that way. It’s a great rivalry, and I think there’s a lot of mutual respect both ways. Both of us want to win ... We don’t want to end the season just yet.”
Teeter's four-year ride with the Longhorns (41-7) has enabled him and his players to play more than a full extra season of games in that span of time, enjoying what he calls those "beautiful November sunsets."
"Our younger kids have improved so much over this time and you're simply not the same player you were at the start," Teeter said of his 2017 edition. "You get more practices. Our seniors have 41 wins. They've won more games than many teams have played. That's an unbelievable record. Whatever happens, I just want to see our kids play a good game, and let the chips fall. Whoever is playing in the state championship game, I know we'll be rooting for a GWAC team to win it all."