By TYLER HENRY
Lead Sportswriter - Salina Post
The Wamego Red Raiders handled their business last week in yet another playoff blowout, easily defeating Rose Hill 42-14 en route to their fourth consecutive regional championship.
“We came out pretty strong on both sides of the ball and captured some momentum,” Raider head coach Weston Moody said. “We had some struggles in the second quarter but we were able to make some adjustments and do well in the second half.”
Now, Wamego (8-2) will turn its attention to the Wellington Crusaders (8-2), who knocked off Coffeyville 27-20 last week.
While the Raiders did enter this season with a much different squad than the one they brought into 2022, each and every player on this team, from varsity starters to JV backups, has been integrated into, and added to the winning culture of football in Wamego.
“These guys have a lot of experience and these seniors have been a part of four straight regional championships now,” Moody said. “They’ve been around success all throughout their time here and being in this game is all they’ve known.”
In order to continue that success, Wamego will have to take down a dangerous, but volatile Wellington squad that has made its living winning shootouts in 2023.
The Crusaders rank among the state’s best offensive units, boasting the second-best passing offense (257 yds/g), third-best total offense (381 yds/g), and sixth-best scoring offense (34.5 ppg) in Class 4A.
Much of that success has come on the back of junior quarterback Dusty Bannister, who leads the Crusaders with 2,451 passing yards and 30 total touchdowns.
“Wellington can chuck it around the yard,” Moody said. “That’s been their MO all year and we’ll have to be able to stop what they’re good at. It’s all about making teams play left-handed if you can and offensively we just want to take what they give us and attack.”
That elite offense has not come without a caveat however, as the Crusaders have built a bit of a glass cannon, and rank in the bottom six of Class 4A in scoring defense, allowing 35.8 points per game.
Of late, Wellington has done their best to slow rushing offenses like Wamego’s down, but following a five-touchdown performance for their passing game last week, the Raiders have proven to be just as potent through the air.
“They’ve been trying to make teams pass the ball by packing the box and that’s fine,” he said. “We’re a run-first team and we won’t shy away from that but we’re balanced enough to let teams take away what they want to take away and still have success.”
In front of the Boom Town faithful for a third straight playoff round, the Raiders have an opportunity to do something few teams in the state of Kansas can boast; punch a ticket to a state semifinal for a second consecutive season.
“Playing at home is always a huge motivation of ours,” Moody said. “We want to make teams come to us and have to listen to our rowdy crowd and the boom town fireworks.”
Kickoff between the Raiders and Crusaders is set for 7:00 on the campus of Wamego High School.
The winner of this game will advance to the semis to square off with either McPherson (7-3), or Andover Central (7-3).