WAMEGO — For the second time in three weeks the once high-flying Wamego Red Raiders found themselves grounded, and then run over by a traditionally dominant Class 4A juggernaut.
Topeka Hayden rode a powerful rushing attack and pressured Wamego quarterback Kyler Alderson relentlessly en route to a 57-14 District 9 victory that sent the Wildcats to the state playoffs — subsequently dashing Wamego’s hopes of earning its first playoff birth since 2007.
Wamego finished the season 7-2, losing two of its last three games.
Red Raiders coach Dale Burkholder, whose Red Raiders earned their second straight NCKL title this season, knows first-hand how tough the district has been in recent years.
“We’ve had a good season,” he said. “We got beat by two of the top teams in 4A. If there’s 64 teams in 4A, we’re better than the majority of ‘em.
“All in all, I have to look at the big picture. Great season, another league championship — I feel like the kids gave everything they had, the coaches gave everything they had. I’m proud of ‘em. So be it. Let the chips fall where they may.”
From the outset, Hayden’s advantage in the trenches was apparent on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats churned out 363 yards rushing on the night, and defensively they may have been more dominant.
Hayden recorded 14 tackles for loss, sacked Wamego quarterbacks seven times and held a Wamego offense that had averaged nearly 43 points per game in the regular season to just three first downs in the first half.
“They get lower, and drive harder, and we just can’t stop that kind of thing,” Burkholder said. “We got to get nastier. They just beat us up front on both sides of the ball.”
Hayden took the opening possession 69 yards on 11 plays before J.C. Menke found the end zone on a 4-yard run. Two more Hayden touchdowns — a 42-yard sweep to speedster Zach Smith, and another short run by Menke put the Wildcats up 21-0 with a little more than a minute to play in the first quarter.
Sandwiched in between were two Wamego three-and-outs and minus-13 yards of offense for the Red Raiders.
When Alderson did have time to throw, he was efficient early. The junior completed his first six passes, and a 48-yard bomb to receiver Trenton York that got the Red Raiders on the board on the first play of the second quarter.
But that 21-7 deficit was as close as Wamego would get. Hayden, which wouldn’t punt until the fourth quarter, covered 80 yards on 11 plays on the ensuing drive that was capped by a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Menke with 7:19 remaining in the half.
The Wildcats were threatening again when Alderson intercepted a Jacob Head pass in the end zone for a touchback. Hayden led 28-7 at halftime.
After the Wildcats forced yet another three-and-out from the Red Raiders to open the third quarter, Noah Huston returned a York punt 47 yards to the Wamego 1-yard line to set up a quarterback sneak by Head to make it 35-7.
Hayden scored twice more before Alderson found York for a 37-yard touchdown strike on the final play of the third quarter and Hayden led 49-17.
The Wildcats finished off the rout on a 25-yard run by freshman Tomas Springer as backups played a majority of the fourth quarter.