Tonganoxie stretches to 6-0 with rally against Mill Valley
With 5:26 left in the game Friday in Shawnee, Tonganoxie trailed Mill Valley, 10-7, as Billy Baska threw a pass to the sideline.
This wasn't a play, nor was Baska throwing a football.
Before the Chieftains got back on offense, Baska tossed his running back gloves to trainer Tony Erisman.
Baska wore the gloves during the last offensive series when the Chieftains were driving, but he fumbled the ball away, one of two Tonganoxie turnovers on the night.
The equipment change must have worked.
With Tonganoxie facing third and four from the Mill Valley 31-yard line, Baska broke free from the Mill Valley defenders and charged into the end zone for what would be the game-winning score. Tonganoxie eventually won, 20-10.
Baska said after the game that he usually shucks the gloves after a turnover.
"I blamed the gloves," he said.
Actually, Baska probably should have blamed the ground.
After watching game film Saturday, it appeared that the ground caused Baska's fumble, but the referees viewed it as a turnover.
Friday's game was unlike any Tonganoxie had played this season.
For the first time this fall, the Chieftains did not score before their opponent. Mill Valley was on the scoreboard initially with a 22-yard field goal.
Despite trailing early, it was Tonganoxie's defense that saved the day.
The Jaguars journeyed three times into the red zone in the first half, but Tonganoxie denied Mill Valley from crossing on all three occasions. Matt Weyer finished the game with 17 tackles and had a late interception that helped seal the game.
Luke McCarty also had three sacks on the night, including two inside the Chieftains own 20-yard line.
"Our defense really stepped it up," McCarty said. "Our defense outplayed our offense. It was our best game of the year."
That's partly because they contained Jaguar standout David Woods. The junior finished the night with an impressive 123 yards on 23 carries, but he had no touchdowns.
Offensively for Tonganoxie, the first half was one of frustration. For a team that averaged 37 points before Friday, going nearly the entire half without a score was a change of pace.
But, when that touchdown finally came, it boosted the Chieftains as they headed into the locker room.
After giving up the field goal, Tonganoxie assembled a 10-play drive from its own 32. The Chieftains had four first downs before Tim Hopkins punched in a 3-yard touchdown run on first and goal with 44.9 seconds left in the half.
Both teams relied on their running games for most of the night. Only 15 passes were thrown between the two squads.
"Our passing game didn't work for us," Baska said. "We stuck by our guns, and our guns have always been running the ball."
Tonganoxie only passed six times and completed just one pass, but it was a crucial reception. On fourth and seven from the Mill Valley 47, Tonganoxie converted with a Justin Walker pass to Shane Howard near the sideline at the Jaguar 38. Then, three plays later, Tonganoxie scored on the ground.
"I think we proved today that we don't have to live by the big play," Baska said. "We can play old-fashioned football, up the gut, right up the middle."
The Chieftains finished with 373 total offensive yards compared to Mill Valley's 281 yards. The Jaguars were more balanced with 129 passing yards, but 85 of those yards came on a passing play. Mill Valley sophomore quarterback Josh Sims threw a short pass to the sideline as senior Rickey Wilson slipped past Tonganoxie's Ross Starcher, who attempted to pick off the pass.
Mill Valley had one last shot at the end zone after Tonganoxie pulled ahead 14-10, but Weyer intercepted a Sims pass. With a minute left in the game, the Chieftains ran a simple wedge play up the middle, but Walker broke through it and scored on 56-yard run.
"We had opportunities to score a lot of points, but we stopped ourselves," THS coach Mark Elston said. "But it was good to be in a big ball game."
THS will have another huge game Friday in Tonganoxie when Piper comes to town for the first week of district play. The Pirates blanked Tonganoxie, 7-0, last year at Piper.