WAMEGO — The Red Raiders were again faced against a power-run team, and like last week, it did them in.
Wamego, who started the season 6-0, lost its second game in a row Friday night at home against Royal Valley 26-18.
While quarterback Marshal Wethington again had a solid yardage night in the air with 170 yards and two touchdown passes, the Panther defense made the 6-foot-3 senior work for every completion. The Royal Valley defense held Wethington to just a 46 percent completion rate — he was 17-for-35 — and the Panthers picked him off late in the game in the red zone off a tipped pass.
Still, it was the Royal Valley ground game that set the tone early. When it was all said and done, the Panthers out-rushed the Red Raiders 382-66 with 288 of those yards coming from Royal Valley running back Matthew Bailey.
“We had a very ugly week of practice, and it showed tonight,” Wamego head coach Dale Burkholder said. “That’s the bottom line. And we faced a really quality ball-control team, and I’ve got to give credit to coach (Jason) Grider and the Royal Valley kids. They played really well and they owned us.
“They owned us up front, and we couldn’t keep them out of the endzone, and we couldn’t get our passing game going, so nothing really worked right, but hey, we’re alive and well… it isn’t life or death, so that’s good.”
Although the Royal Valley rush attack was the method of operation for the Panthers, the first score of the game came from Royal Valley’s one and only pass completion, after a defensive stalemate held the contest scoreless most of the first quarter.
The Panthers — who just attempted four passes the entire game —found the endzone on an 8-yard pass from junior Austin Hodison to senior Tanner Ogden with 3:28 to go in the quarter.
Wamego was able to answer late in the second, though, when a 4-yard quarterback keeper by Wethington got the Red Raiders on the scoreboard. The two-point conversion failed, however, and Royal Valley held an 8-6 lead.
Another time-consuming ground-pounding possession later in the quarter ended with another Panthers score when Hodison broke free of the pile and sprinted down his team’s sideline for a 17-yard touchdown. The rush for two points failed, but Royal Valley extended its lead 14-6.
The Wamego offense couldn’t answer and it looked as if the Panthers would grow their lead when a botched punt by the Red Raiders netted just 12 yards — thus giving Royal Valley opportune field position at the Wamego 30-yard line. The Red Raider defense stepped up, though, and recovered a Panthers fumble right after the special-teams miscue.
The momentum continued to shift to Wamego when 50 yards of defensive penalties on Royal Valley — which included two 15-yard personal foul flags on one play — gave Wamego a chance to tie before halftime.
Starting from the Panther 31-yard line with 25 seconds left in the half, Wethington attempted passes in the endzone, but none would stick — although one was intercepted, it was nullified by a defensive holding penalty. The last pass attempt fell incomplete off the receiver’s hands in the corner of the endzone when the half expired.
A 68-yard dash by Bailey at the beginning of the third quarter cushioned Royal Valley’s lead and a 2-yard run by fullback Nehemiah Schuetz added another at the end of the period.
Wethington would connect on touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to fellow senior Dakota Turner, who finished with 114 receiving yards and a pair of scores on the night, but Wamego ran out of time to catch up.
“They kept breaking it on us,” Burkholder said. “They’re a power team, and we’re not very good against power teams. Hopefully we’ll have a better practice week this week.”