WAMEGO — With 17 seconds remaining in Friday’s sectional game, Wamego head coach Weston Moody made a bold call.
After quarterback Hayden Oviatt slipped into the end zone, Wamego trailed Arkansas City by just one point, 21-20.
It was decision time.
Go for the win and advance to the Class 4A state semifinals. Or go for the tie, and overtime.
Moody opted to try for the win.
But the Bulldogs held.
Wamego attempted one last-ditch effort, with an onside kick, but Ark City recovered and escaped with a 21-20 victory.
“I felt like we had a lot of momentum,” Moody said about the two-point attempt. “It was a nice little drive we put together and I thought we had them on their heels.
“I also didn’t want to put the whole game on an extra point. I felt like we could score on that play. I was confident.”
The game was a fight between the two regional winners from the beginning.
Neither team scored in the first quarter, and Wamego (6-5) had possession at the beginning of the second. The Raiders lost it on downs, but quickly regained control when Aaron Matthews intercepted a Bulldog pass.
Wamego capitalized on the opportunity, and after a five-minute drive, Oviatt scored from the 1-yard line. Noah Ficke added the kick and Wamego was up 7-0, with 6:50 left in the half.
Ark City quickly responded with a touchdown of its own level the game with four minutes remaining in the second period.
The Bulldogs (5-6) nearly pulled off a last-second score. But Wamego’s Izaak Meyer, picked off a pass in the end zone, sending the teams into the break tied at 7.
Coming out of halftime, the Bulldogs quickly found a rhythm. They scored two touchdowns in the third quarter to go up 21-7.
The fourth period belonged to the home squad, as it pushed to catch up.
Wamego scored early in the period on another quarterback keeper. Ficke’s kick narrowed the deficit to 21-14. Wamego’s defense got the ball back to begin the final, and fateful, drive.
Wamego started the possession with 5:12 on the clock. The Red Raiders made it to the Bulldogs’ 16-yard line with less than a minute remaining. With 44 seconds left, Oviatt picked up 9 yards, moving the ball to Ark City’s 7.
Thirty seconds left.
Oviatt again ran the ball, pulling the Raiders within 2 yards of the goal line.
Seventeen seconds left.
Oviatt plunged into the end zone, bringing the Raiders to within one point of the Bulldogs, 21-20.
That was the night’s final score.
Ark City was every bit as tough, Moody said, as he expected.
“You just have to go back and look at the teams they played: top-level 5A teams,” he said. “I knew they were big up front and I knew the quarterback was pretty solid.”
Despite dropping the sectional game to Ark City, it was a successful season for the Raiders by nearly any measure. They finished with a winning record. They made it to the “elite eight” round of the state playoffs for only the fourth time in program history. (The other years were 2015, 2001 and 1975.) And, despite the coronavirus pandemic raging all fall, they managed to play a full schedule.
“They had a heck of a year,” Moody said, “under the circumstances.”