By BRETT MARSHALL
Only six southwest Kansas high school football teams in The Telegram's coverage area made it through district play to qualify for the postseason playoffs following Thursday night's final regular season games for Classes 4A, 3A, some 2-1A schools and 8-man Division I and II squads.
The teams moving on to the postseason include Ulysses (4A), Scott City, Holcomb and Lakin (3A), and Dighton and Ingalls (8-Man, Division II).
Ulysses' Tigers captured the Class 4A District 14 title with a 48-16 win over Hugoton, and goes into the Tuesday bi-district round with a home game against powerhouse Buhler. Both teams are 8-1 as Buhler was in the same district as highly-regarded Andale (9-0). Game time for the Tigers-Crusaders game is 6 p.m. at Maxwell Field.
In Class 3A, Scott City and Holcomb came through with 3-0 district records and will have home bi-district games, also on Tuesday. As of Friday morning, kickoff for the game was still set for 7 p.m.
Scott City (8-1) capped off its rebuilding year with a 54-0 shutout of Russell, and will host Lakin (5-4) at 7 p.m. at Darner Field. The Broncs won their final district game on Thursday at Southwestern Heights by a commanding 48-7 margin over the Mustangs. They were runner-up to Holcomb in District 16.
"I think a lot of people underestimated this senior class," head coach Glenn O'Neil said Friday in a telephone interview. "Last year (3A state championship season), they competed well in practice with the veteran players and then worked their tails off in the weight room all summer. We've got through part one of the season, which has been good."
O'Neil said some of the perceived stumblings through the season can be credited to injuries and new people learning new assignments and finding their role on the team.
"Early, the defense was a disappointment, but that has been a big growth for us during the season," O'Neil said. "We're understanding our keys better, we're doing a better job with the scouting reports and we're communicating better."
O'Neil's son, Trey, who was the starter at quarterback and slated to be the free safety, has been hampered by both knee and shoulder injuries. Coach O'Neil said his son had yet to play a full game on defense.
"That position is the one that calls a lot of our defensive signals," coach O'Neil said of the safety spot. "Then, our offensive line has been so beat up, from tackle to tackle, that we haven't had any consistency until just lately. We're starting to make improvements with our schemes and blocking assignments. Everybody seems to be more on the same page now."
In the past several seasons, when the Beavers were rolling over their regular-season opponents with regularity, the offense just clicked. This year, coach O'Neil said, the Beavers have adjusted their offense to what the opponent creates.
"In all honesty, I don't know what type of offensive team we are at this point," said O'Neil, who has traditionally favored the Wing-T formation and a dominant running attack. "We look at who we're playing, what they're doing and then decide what sets will work best for us. So we've used a little bit of everything."
Holcomb also completed its three-game district schedule unblemished on Thursday night with a 49-20 triumph over Cimarron. The Longhorns will have home field for the second straight year, and the opponent will be the same as in 2012 — Hoisington's Cardinals — runner-up to Scott City in District 15. The 'Horns (6-3), like all teams in the 3A-4A and 8-man classifications, have just five days to prepare for their first-round battle.
"The turnaround from Thursday to Tuesday is a huge thing," said Holcomb coach Jerry Johnson. "The biggest thing is recovery. You normally give the kids the two-day weekend to rest up and then Monday's a light day at practice, so it's really three days. Now, you don't have that luxury. You have to implement a game plan, try to give kids a chance to recover, but still get good enough looks in practice for the scouting you've done on the other team. It's just really difficult for the kids."
The fact the Longhorns get to play at home is a big bonus in the eyes of Johnson.
"Everything's just more normal," Johnson said. "You don't have to worry about travel plans. You don't have to worry about meals on the trip. You can do your normal home game schedule."
Of the upcoming Cardinals, Johnson said he expects a tough battle, especially in the trenches along both offensive and defensive lines.
"They're a good football team, just like anybody who makes the playoffs," Johnson said. "They've got a good fullback, and they're big and physical on the lines. They're a power team on offense and they are really good up the middle on defense. At this point, you don't overlook anybody. Otherwise you're a one-and-done team."
Should the Longhorns get past Hoisington, they would face the winner of the Beloit-Southeast of Saline matchup next Saturday. Beloit (9-0) is top-ranked in Class 3A, having eliminated the Longhorns in the second round a year ago before losing to Scott City in the semifinals. A Holcomb-Beloit matchup would be on the Longhorns' home field with the east travels west formula in place this season in Class 3A for the second round games.
For Ulysses, it will be the as-always tough first-round opponent coming out of District 13. In this case it's Buhler.
The Crusaders also sport an 8-1, but their lone setback came against unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Andale by a slender 28-21 margin.
"We know what we're getting and they're the real deal," Ulysses coach Jason Kenny said of Buhler. "They are extremely talented and we'll have to play almost a perfect game if we want to have a chance to win the game."
The Tigers are on an eight-game winning streak after losing their season opener to Class 5A Liberal in a 56-41 shootout. Since then, they have been impressive in capturing the Great West Activities Conference title by handing Class 3A defending state champion Scott City its only loss of the season (25-6) early in the non-district schedule. It was their first GWAC title in the young league's four seasons. Then, they swept through the district of Larned, Pratt and Hugoton.
"We've gotten better up front and are blocking better," Kenny said of his offensive line. "We've been able to put points on the board. Defensively, I think we're playing more physical and covering the pass better."
The Tigers are paced on offense by big (6-2, 220) and bruising running back Ian Rudzik. The sophomore has rushed for 1,766 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. He is averaging 10.9 yards per carry and 196.7 yards a game.
"We've been playing well and that's what you want this time of year," Kenny said. "Ian's a special type of back. He runs with power and he's got pretty good speed once he gets in the open."
But he's not the lone running threat for the Tigers' offense that has averaged 353.2 yards a game and scoring at a 40.7 clip while giving up 18 points. Junior Zach Romero has rushed for 771 yards, scored nine touchdowns and averaged just more than seven yards per attempt.
Two area teams slipped in for the playoffs in 8-Man Division II runner-ups.
Ingalls' Bulldogs (7-2) were runner-ups in District 8 while Dighton's Hornets captured the second spot from District 7.
The Bulldogs will travel to Victoria to face the unbeaten Knights (9-0) on Tuesday while Dighton hits the road to Fowler to tackle the Goldbugs (7-2). Both games are slated for 7 p.m. kickoffs.