By TYLER HENRY
Little Apple Post contributor
On Friday night, Wamego will take the field looking to do something that no team in Red Raider history has ever accomplished.
Punch a ticket to a state championship game, and earn the right to play for the title of best team in Class 4A.
Standing in their way is a McPherson squad that will be more than hungry to do the same, after being stopped in their tracks in the 4A semifinals three times in the last four years.
While Wamego wades into uncharted waters, the confidence and energy in the Red Raider locker room remain high as this group looks to ink their names in the history books on Friday night.
“Our mentality has been pretty good,” Wamego head coach Weston Moody said. “Everyone has been higher on us this week than they have been in the past. A lot of people thought we were good but not elite and I don’t think anyone believed we could get here besides the guys in our locker room.”
That confidence from within was tested last week when the Raiders found themselves down to Andover Central for a second-straight quarterfinal, but Wamego dusted themselves off and turned the tide to avenge last year’s elimination loss 42-7.
“That game started just like it did last year,” Moody said. “It was a disaster. All of those things go through your head, and that’s the most adversity that we’ve faced all year but our guys bounced back and it was nice to see us respond. We didn’t back down, we stepped up.”
Now, Wamego will turn its attention to a perennial power in McPherson, in the midst of another strong season, eliminating Mulvane 34-13, Ark City 35-0, and Towanda-Circle 49-28 last week.
Years ago, Bullpup head coach Jace Pavlovich hosted Coach Moody as a recruit at Fort Hays State, this week, the two will line up on opposite sidelines in mutual respect, but intent on sending the other home nonetheless.
“McPherson is very well coached,” Moody said. “I know that staff well and they’re going to have those guys ready to go. They don’t make many mistakes and they play hard. They’ve been down this year but they always battle back and I know we’re going to get a four-quarter battle. Their kids have been here before and the lights won’t be too bright for them.”
Offensively, the Bullpups have managed to remain even-keeled, gashing opposing secondaries for big gains through the air as effectively as they wear teams down on the ground.
“They’re balanced on offense and they have good quarterback and running back play,” he said. “Their offense is very similar to ours, they want to take what you give them and exploit that while avoiding silly mistakes. We’re going to have to be fundamentally sound, tackle in open space, and create some takeaways.”
On defense McPherson has looked stout as well, holding opponents to just 17.3 points per game and 253 yards of total offense through the regular season.
In order to find success on either side of the ball, Wamego must assert their will in the trenches, and play the more physical side of this blue-collar matchup.
“We’ve been pretty solid with our offensive line and our backs,” he said. “We have to continue to take what the defense gives us and we have to be the more physical team for four quarters. I think our guys are up for that challenge.”
While many teams appear worn down by week twelve, the competitive fire and hunger for greatness have propelled the Raiders to continue pressing each and every day in pursuit of a final act that has long evaded the Wamego faithful.
“I’ve been impressed with our guys’ attitude and willingness to continue looking to get better every day in practice,” Moody said. “We’ve been going since June and a long season can wear on kids sometimes but they haven’t been fatigued and I think our postseason experience has helped with that. I’m really impressed with how they’ve attacked each day.”
Kickoff between the Raiders and Bullpups is set for 7 pm at Wamego High School with the winner advancing to the 4A state championship to take on either 9-2 Bishop Miege or 9-2 St. Thomas Aquinas.