Playoff victories aren’t often bittersweet in football.
Either you win and life is great, or you lose and go home.
Sabetha’s 28-8 win over Riley County Tuesday night was not nearly that cut and dry.
Instead of a raucous celebration after the playoff victory, which hadn’t been done since 2008, the mood was somber, as the team would soon grieve for the father of teammate Alex Edelman.
“The team doesn’t know he didn’t make it, so that’ll be tough tonight,” Sabetha coach Garrett Michael said. “We decided to play, and play in his honor, and that’s what they did.”
The game started 45 minutes late, but was nearly postponed after Tim Edelman collapsed on the track while helping set up equipment. Three ambulances arrived to Hal Prichard Stadium, in an effort to save his life. They departed toward Manhattan about 30 minutes later, giving the two teams a choice to make. Play the game or go home.
“He was a sophomore, he was a starter,” Michael said of Alex Edelman. “So a bunch of his friends were out playing, so I was worried about them. I was worried about the seniors — basically I just asked them what they thought. Riley County was going to do whatever we wanted to do, but our kids didn’t really know what to do. I understood that.”
They decided to play, and once the game started, Sabetha did everything it needed to do to win the game, despite being outgained 392-275 by Riley County.
The Falcons were doomed by turnovers — five on the night — while also not converting on a fourth-and-goal in the final minute of the first half.
“We hadn’t been turning the ball over and we hadn’t had penalties,” Riley County coach Steve Wagner said. “Tonight, it seemed like our offense was out of sync all night long, we had turnovers and penalties and they didn’t. They took care of the ball and we had trouble stopping them. They were the better team tonight.”
Sabetha had just one turnover in the game, which came six plays into the first drive. Riley County’s Bryce Chavis grabbed Gaven Schumann’s pass at the 1-yard line, preventing a touchdown. But the Falcons turned the ball over four plays later to set Sabetha up at the Riley 16-yard line for an easy score.
After Chavis’ first interception halted the next drive, Sabetha marched down the field for a 13-play, 66-yard score, capped by Kegan Schumann’s 8-yard run.
But Riley County answered, with Chavis hitting Landin Griffith in stride for an 18-yard touchdown and two-point conversion to make it 14-8.
That’s as close as Riley County would get, however.
“We went five games without (turnovers), at some point those things catch up to you, I guess,” Wagner said. “We tell our guys all the time, don’t make excuses, don’t look for blame. The bottom line is, Sabetha executed better and played well and deserved to win the game.”
Sabetha scored two more touchdowns without an answer from the Falcons. Both were long scoring drives that ate up clock, but the game didn’t really feel out of reach until the first play of the fourth quarter, with the Falcons trailing 21-8 but with first and goal from the 7-yard line.
Chavis was intercepted on the next play, and the Falcons had a facemask penalty tacked on the play, giving Sabetha the ball at the 35-yard line after the touchback.
Sabetha went three-and-out, but a Chavis fumble on the next drive gave Sabetha the ball right back with the chance to eat more clock.
The Blue Jays scored their final touchdown with 2:21 to play in the fourth quarter to finally put the game out of reach.
Sabetha was led by McKenzie McAfee’s 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Chavis finished his Falcon football career with 136 yards on the ground and 239 through the air, but his four turnovers proved to be the difference. Griffith finished the night with six catches and 132 yards.
“It’ll take a few days to get over this, but our seniors had a good season and coming back from 0-4, and winning the district championship and a big win over Rock Creek,” Wagner said. “There’ll be plenty to look back on and have good memories about.”
For Sabetha, beating Riley County after ending their season to the Falcons the last two seasons was a huge step in the right direction.
“It’s a huge step in getting the program back,” Michael said. “I know these seniors wanted to do something that hadn’t been done since I’ve been the head coach, and they just did it right there.”
But the win proved to be bittersweet for the Blue Jays.
“You don’t know when your time is,” Michael said. “The game’s secondary.”