Chieftains win share of Kaw Valley title with 8-2 mark
According to Tonganoxie coach Mark Elston, this year's Chieftain football team had a long season.
When one thinks of "long season" the term takes on the meaning of a struggling team that just couldn't win.
But for Elston this season lasted four years instead of three months.
"It didn't start just this season," Elston said. "It basically started four years ago when those freshmen jumped in against those varsity players."
Those freshmen Elston referred to were 13 players who led the team as seniors this season.
Ryan Burke, Matt Madeira, Tim Hopkins, Dustan Sprowls, Jerry Hartshorn, Adam Alexander, Luke McCarty, Matt Weyer, Nick Stein, Alan Bauerly, Shane Howard, Justin Walker and Billy Baska came into the program as freshmen and leave as seniors who guided the Chieftains to an 8-2 record this year and a shared KVL title with Piper.
Tonganoxie entered the season coming off a 5-5 campaign in 2002 and its first playoff appearance since 1995. But the Chieftains opened the season against Wamego, a team that routed them a year ago in Tonganoxie.
In the season opener this year, THS won, 40-13 with both running and passing attacks.
That was an important game for Elston's team.
"We knew we had capabilities offensively and knew we had to replace some people on defense," Elston said. "That did wonders for our confidence."
Overall, the Chieftains posted four games in which they scored 40 or more points and two games in which they held their opponent scoreless. Tonganoxie had its highest output in its third week against De Soto when the Chieftains claimed a 50-19 victory.
"The De Soto game, they were ranked ahead of us by the Topeka paper," Elston said. "They were picked to beat us.
"We showed what we could do when we put it all together."
A week before, Tonganoxie came from behind against Bonner Springs in the final minutes for a 29-25 win.
Two weeks later against Immaculata, the Chieftains rolled to a 42-7 win. THS had a 21-0 lead, but Elston knew at halftime the program had evolved.
"At halftime they were ticked off," Elston said. "They were mad at everybody under the sun and we were up 21-0."
This season included shutouts against rivals Santa Fe Trail and Lansing. Tonganoxie claimed a 24-0 homecoming win against Santa Fe Trail, which won, 35-6 last year in Carbondale. THS also routed Lansing, 41-0, in the regular season finale and earned a trip to the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
"It was our most complete game of the year," Elston said.
The Chieftains also had wins against Mill Valley and later Basehor-Linwood, but suffered a heartbreaking loss against Piper, 17-14, in a strange overtime game.
"I though we were the better team that night," Elston said. "The defense played as well as they had all season."
Heading into bi-districts, the Chieftains were 8-1 and faced Atchison in the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The Redmen used a late rally last season for a 28-14 win, but the rematch would be a much different game.
Tonganoxie had Atchison backed up to its own 23 on a third and 27 in the first quarter, but the Redmen scooted 77 yards for their first score. AHS extended its lead to 14-0 at the half, but four touchdowns on four consecutive offensive plays slammed the door on Tonganoxie's dream season in a 39-0 rout.
"We just got beat by a better team," Elston said. "I don't think mentally were ready to play and physically they were better than we were.
"There was a letdown of probably knowing things were coming to a close. That's natural for a high school kid when the seniors realize their high school careers are over at that point."
Tonganoxie had its share of all-Kaw Valley League honors. On offense, McCarty was a first team all-KVL lineman, while Baska and Hopkins were first team running backs.
Fellow seniors Walker at quarterback and Alexander at lineman were on the offense's second team, while Stein, a lineman, and place kicker Kirk Rodell were honorable mention.
McCarty also grabbed first-team defensive honors as a lineman as Weyer and Stein joined him on that team. Junior Kaleb Lawrence and Baska were second team selections. Sophomore lineman Kent Fleming earned honorable mention honors.
Howard and Sprowls received votes on offense, while Zach Ditty, Sam Mitchell and Ross Starcher received votes on defense.
Next season, the Chieftains must replace the large senior class, especially on the offensive line, which was made entirely of seniors. And then there is the backfield combination of Baska, Hopkins and Walker.
"We have to replace 27 touchdowns somewhere between quarterbacks and running backs," Elston said.