LUSH — For the Rock Creek Mustangs and the Wamego Red Raiders, Friday night lights returned with a vengeance.
In a game that saw a lot of positives for Wamego, it was the Mustangs who finished on top — needing a late fourth-quarter touchdown and two-point conversion to come away with the 28-27 season-opening victory.
“It was a great game — for an opening game, I was pleased with some things we did and some things I wasn’t really happy about,” Rock Creek head coach Mike Beam said. “But, I guess that’s the first game — you’re not really going to be perfect and we definitely weren’t. But both teams played hard.”
Rock Creek was quick to put points on the board. In the opening five minutes, Mustangs senior Ben Commerford scored on a 63-yard run to put Rock Creek up 7-0. He finished with 140 yards on 17 carries.
The Mustangs’ Tyler Dillon added 129 yards on 20 carries.
Wamego would be quick to answer, however, when senior quarterback Marshall Wethington connected on a long 82-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Ebert with 7 minutes left in the opening quarter.
Wethington was 14-of-25 for 282 yards with three passing touchdowns and another one rushing.
“It was a great competition, just a great high school football game,” Wethington said, though disappointed after the loss. “We’re going to have a good team this year, that’s what I saw tonight.”
The next two touchdowns belonged to Rock Creek — a Dylan Meyer 10-yard pass to J.T. Weers with 4:29 remaining in the first quarter and a 5-yard rush from Meyer in the opening minutes of the second — giving the Mustangs a 20-7 lead.
But again Wamego had an answer when Wethington scored on a 10-yard rush to make it 20-14 with 5:48 to play in the first half.
Wamego added another score just before halftime when the Red Raiders took advantage of multiple Rock Creek mistakes.
The Mustangs, buried deep in their own territory after three straight penalties, punted on fourth down. But the punt covered just 7 yards, setting the Red Raiders up at the Mustangs’ 22.
Wamego then took the lead with 27 seconds to play in the half when Wethington found Brady Hemphill for a 4-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-20.
It was the first time since 2009 that Wamego had a half time lead over Rock Creek.
The second half opened with a long drive from Rock Creek, moving the ball into the red zone. But quarterback Dylan Meyer made a costly error when he threw across the middle and was picked off by Wamego’s Trenton York and returned to the 12.
Wamego took advantage and pushed its lead to 27-20 with 3:12 to play in the third quarter on a 47-yard touchdown pass from Wethington to Turner, who finished with four receptions for 84 yards.
“I talked to Dylan about throwing it over the middle because the guy was open earlier,” said Beam on the interception. “I just think he just needed to put a little more on the ball. We missed a block the play before and so it just kind of gave us third-and-8 or something.
“We need to get 3 yards or so each time, and when we don’t, it just puts us in a bad situation. So, it all started the play before, but I mean, we just have to make plays like that, and we will.”
Rock Creek wasn’t finished, though, as the Mustangs responded to the Wamego score when Brett Hammett found Brandon Lutgen for a 27-yard touchdown pass to get within one at 27-26 with 2:48 to play.
Beam opted to go for two and the win, rather than playing it safe for the tie when Dillon pounded out the tough yards for the conversion, giving the Mustangs a 28-27 lead.
“It was really an easy call because our offense is based on those three tough yards,” Beam said. “That’s what we practice, that’s what we tell our kids all the time and that’s an extra point, you know.”
Wamego head coach Dale Burkholder said he wasn’t surprised Rock Creek went for two .
“They go for two a lot, so I figured that’s what they’d do,” he said. “We were ready for that, we just have to stop them and we couldn’t stop them.”
Rock Creek was able to preserve the victory on the defensive side — silencing a Wamego drive when Sheldon Rogge came up with a 14-yard sack and strip fumble recovery of Wethington at mid field with 1:49 remaining.
“A lot of times in opening games, you may not get a test,” Beam said. “So, you don’t know (what your strong points are), but we know now that we can come back.
“I told them before the game, ‘hey, you’re going to face some adversity at some point in this game.’ I just didn’t know it’d be quite that many times. It’s all how you handle it, and they handled it pretty well.”
Both coaches agreed, that for a season opener, Friday night’s game was a good start.
“Well, it was two great football teams and I thought it was pretty well played for a first game of the season,” Burkholder said. “The effort was tremendous and we had our chances. (Rock Creek) is a great team, but we gave them a run tonight.”
ROCK CREEK 28,
Wamego 7 14 6 0 — 27
Rock Creek 14 6 0 8 — 28
RC — Commerford 63 run (PAT) 5:00
WAM — Ebert 82 pass from Wethington (PAT) 7:10
RC — Weers 10 pass from Meyer (PAT) 4:29
RC — Roberts 5 run (PAT failed) 6:59
WAM — Wethington 10 run (PAT) 5:48
WAM — Quinn 4 pass from Wethington (PAT) :27
WAM — Turner 53 pass from Wethington (PAT fail) 3:12
RC — Lutgen 47 pass from Hammett (Dillon run) 2:48
RUSHING — Wamego, Wethington 15-49, Ebert 3-14, Weers 1-(-6). Rock Creek, Commerford 17-140, Dillon 20-129, Goodmiller 9-29, Roberts 7-25, Lutgen 1-8, Hammett 2-3, Meyer 2-3.
PASSING — Wamego, Wethington 14-25-282. Rock Creek, Meyer 3-5-0-16, Hammett 2-2-63.
RECEIVING — Wamego, Turner 4-82, Ebert 1-82, York 2-38, Hemphill 1-38, Quinn 3-22, Webb 1-10, Brazzle 1-(-3). Rock Creek, Lutgen 1-47, Weers 2-17, Commerford 1-16, Goodmiller 1-(-1).