By TYLER HENRY
Little Apple Post contributor
As the final whistle sounded in Wamego on Friday night, a profound realization set in around the stadium.
For the first time in school history, the Red Raiders would be playing for a state championship.
This 33-16 win over McPherson was just the latest in a run of 12 straight victories that have put Wamego on the doorstep of ultimate gridiron glory.
“Everybody is excited about this and it means a lot to our guys and to the whole community,” Raider head coach Weston Moody said. “You go anywhere and people are amped up and rightfully so. Our kids were emotional on Friday, it was their last game on that field but Hayden said it best, the job isn’t done, we still want to make it to the top.”
This semifinal success story wasn’t without its fair share of adversity.
Things started smoothly enough in Wamego, as the Raiders took a 13-0 lead right out of the gates.
After that the Bullpups battled back, rattling off 16 unanswered points to snatch a 16-13 lead, Wamego trailed, but never lost their composure.
“We didn’t really freak out after we went down,” Moody said. “In years past, I think we’ve had a freak-out factor in moments like that when the momentum swings but our guys stayed calm and decided to pick it up and attack these guys.”
With his back to the wall, staring down elimination, Hayden Oviatt picked up the torch and with the wind of Wamego at his back, willed the Raiders back in front with three unanswered touchdowns to deliver the 33-16 victory.
“Having Hayden back is huge,” he said. “He gives us another weapon, and when he wills things they happen. There’s a reason he’s going to Army West Point and in the fourth quarter, we knew he was going to make it right. Everyone knew he was going to get the football but it didn’t matter.”
On the other side of the ball, those 16 unanswered McPherson points would be the last they would muster as the Raider defense did what it has done all season, tightening the screws and locking out the Bullpup offense.
“Our defense hunkered down,” Moody said. “They could have easily been shell-shocked but these guys decided that they were going to fight to the end no matter the circumstances. There’s no letdown in these guys whether they're up or down and they stymied them while our offense took over.”
In the end, this 17-point victory is the closest challenge anyone has laid to Wamego’s undefeated season, and with one final test ahead, there’s no doubt that the Raiders are peaking at the perfect time.
“We’re absolutely playing our best football right now,” he said. “When our guys were on the sideline in-between series’ making in-game adjustments and it’s cool to see them understand what we want to do and make it happen on the field. That comes with experience but I’m extremely proud of them.”
From the opening kickoff of the season, this Wamego team believed that they could win a state championship, 13 weeks later the Raiders will have an opportunity to do just that against a Miege juggernaut.
“Our guys believed that they could get here from day one and we still believe it now,” Moody said. “We’ve talked about it, we’ve worked for it since June and here we are in late November in a position to go after this. There won’t be a single person outside of our locker room that picks us to win over Miege and rightfully so but people didn’t think we could get here so why not shock them again.”