CONWAY SPRINGS — Wabaunsee trailed 12-6 with 1:17 remaining in the second quarter, but that was the closest the Chargers would get Friday evening in a 39-14 sectional loss at Conway Springs.
The Cardinals would go on to stretch their lead to 32-6 before Wabaunsee got its second touchdown as the Conway Springs’ offense piled on 519 yards offensively.
Cardinals running back Brayden Kunz was a problem all game for Wabaunsee’s defense, totaling 288 yards on 37 carries for four touchdowns.
“Everything we saw on film was that they are big, physical, (and) they are going to run the ball downhill,” Wabaunsee head coach Jess Rutledge said. “We just were not in the right spot enough. Did not execute well enough, but that is my fault as a coach.
“Just the way their offensive line got off the ball. They have sound blockers, so they get to our secondary level. Those guys can make a read, and Kunz is a hell of a runner. He just never stops his feet and knees. He is a difficult guy to bring down. He has got great vision when he runs.”
Conway Springs got off to a quick start on their opening drive of the game, ending with a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Kunz.
A 73-yard rushing touchdown from Isaac Winter on the Cardinals third drive of the game gave Conway Springs a 12-0 lead with 8:40 remaining in the second quarter after two failed two-point conversions.
After not advancing the ball to midfield on their first three drives, the Chargers (9-2) were able to put a drive together.
A 43-yard pass from junior quarterback Wyatt Wurtz to junior wide receiver Miguel Hernandez moved Wabaunsee to the Cardinal’s 17-yard line. Wurtz then found senior wide receiver Logan Clark for a 11-yard touchdown two plays later. The Chargers failed to score the 2-point conversion, but the lead was cut to 12-6 with 1:17 remaining in the second quarter.
Conway Springs (8-3) got the ball to begin the just before the end of the half and after a solid return, Kunz broke free through a hole for a 54-yard touchdown run. Conway Springs decided to kick the extra point, and it was good, giving the Cardinals a 19-6 lead heading into halftime.
“That definitely sucked a lot of wind out of our sails,” Rutledge said on the 54-yard touchdown run. “It went from a one-possession game to a two-possession game. Again, like several times. We were in the right position; we just did not finish the play.”
The Cardinals took command of the game to open the third quarter as they marched down the field with a 12-play drive that consumed 4:35. They capped the drive off with a 5-yard rushing touchdown from Kunz. The extra point was missed, keeping the score at 25-6 with 7:19 remaining in the third quarter.
“We needed to do a better job of playing lower, playing with our hands, and then taking our assignments,” Rutledge said. “That is ultimately on me. I give props to Conway Springs. We tried several different things. We tried more blitzing. Different alignments up front. Different numbers up front. They executed well. We didn’t.”
Wabaunsee had a turnover on downs on its next drive. On fourth-and-9, Wurtz connected with senior running back Bryton Reves for six yards with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter.
Conway Springs then took over at its 16-yard line and consumed the remaining of the third quarter with a 14-play drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run from Kunz with 11:57 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Chargers had to punt on their next drive, and then the Cardinals got another touchdown on a 1-yard rush from Nathan Berntsen, pushing the lead to 39-6 with 5:39 remaining.
Wabaunsee did not backdown though, as Wurtz connected with Reves on a pass, and Reves broke multiple tackles and ran down the right sideline for a 48-yard touchdown play.
“I told them, I said ‘The game is not done until the final second is gone,’” Rutledge said. “We are a resilient bunch. We are not going to throw in the towels, so I was very proud to see them battle like that all the way to the end.”
Rutledge said the ultimate goal of the program is to get to Thanksgiving weekend at Hays to play for a state championship, but making it to the third round of the playoffs is the furthest the Chargers have advanced in his time as head coach, and he could not be more proud of what the senior class did for the program.
“It is always gut-wrenching when your season ends, whether it is the first round or in the state championship, because you know those seniors are moving on, which is a great part of life,” Rutledge said. “That is something that you are going to miss. I am going to miss all seven of our (seniors) dearly. I love them to death.
“Going 1-8 as freshman to where we are at now is phenomenal, and they should absolutely be proud of that and hold their heads high. I told the younger guys the standard is now (theirs) to carry. We know what we are capable of and how much we need to do to get going further in the playoffs. This is a great step in the right direction.”