THS stretches past De Soto for district title
Chieftains capture first district title since 1995 season
Rains produced a 1,000-word picture Friday in De Soto.
With Tonganoxie and De Soto set to play for a district title, the teams warmed up on the field.
At just the right angle, behind the DHS press box and the Tonganoxie players appeared a rainbow.
Instead of the green-clad Wildcats finding a treasure at the end of the rainbow, though, it was the visiting Chieftains who felt rich Friday night.
The two Class 4A schools battled for 48 minutes Friday, but Tonganoxie held on for a 27-26 win.
The monumental victory pushed Tonganoxie to 7-1 on the year and, more importantly, gave the Chieftains their first district title since 1995. Bonner Springs' win against Perry-Lecompton on Friday sealed the Chieftains' district accomplishment.
Tonganoxie powered over De Soto in its opening possession with a 10-play 80-yard drive that included five first downs. The only threat to the drive was a third and 6 from the De Soto 48. Zach Ditty, though, picked up seven yards and kept the drive alive.
On the next play, fellow senior Kaleb Lawrence powered his way 26 yards downfield, setting up a first and 10 from the Wildcat 15. Lawrence had 20 carries for 130 yards on the night.
But another drive was more impressive for the Chieftains.
The Wildcats moved momentum in their favor in the fourth quarter with a touchdown that cut Tonganoxie's lead to one.
After the ensuing kickoff, THS started another drive on its own 20 with 8:07 remaining. Tonganoxie needed to keep the ball out of De Soto's possession for a final shot at victory.
Tonganoxie definitely took care of business.
The Chieftains ran 16 plays -- four of which were fourth down conversions. Tonganoxie made its way to the De Soto 18 when time expired.
"All the coaches were telling me to go for it, and so were all the players and you've got to put your money where your mouth is," THS coach Mark Elston said.
For De Soto, the game was a case of three what-ifs.
The Wildcats hung with the Chieftains all night. DHS answered Tonganoxie's opening touchdown with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Neil Erisman to Leif Goleman.
Another touchdown drive -- 57 yards in 14 plays in just under five minutes -- put Tonganoxie ahead, 14-6 with 1:20 left in the half.
But again, De Soto responded.
The Wildcats took the kickoff return back to the Chieftain 18-yard line. Three plays later, Erisman found Goleman again, this time for a 14-yard score. After De Soto missed the initial extra point, DHS coach Brad Scott elected to go for two after the second score.
That, actually, was the difference in the ball game. De Soto went for two after its final two touchdowns, but came nowhere near converting them.
With a struggling kicking game, Scott went for two, but DHS converted just once.
Another conversion likely would have won the game because THS kicker Jeff Hughes, who was perfect on his first three attempts, missed his last.
Tonganoxie's rushing attack was the difference in Friday's game. The Chieftains racked up 453 total yards -- 400 of which came on the ground.
Elston gave some credit to his horses up front also.
"Phil George was absolutely destroying people on the offensive line." Elston said, "And Daniel Workman played absolutely unbelievable."
Lawrence led the way with 130 yards on 20 carries, while Sam Mitchell had 70 yards on 11 carries, 59 of which came on a touchdown run.
Ross Starcher amassed 68 yards on 19 carries, while Zach Ditty had 32 yards on 11 carries.
THS also had timely success with the passing game, including a 13-yard pass from Starcher to Mitchell right before the half and a 17-yard pass to Thomas Hopkins in the third quarter.
For De Soto, the Wildcats had 232 yards of total offense and were 4-for-9 passing. Erisman was even more timely in his throws than Starcher. All of his completions were for touchdowns. The fourth touchdown pass was a halfback heave from Tyler Farmer to Danny Doherty for a 51-yard score.
As for its running game, the Tonganoxie defense limited De Soto to 144 rushing yards.
"Zach Ditty and Aaron Adcox had some of the most devastating hits we'd seen all year," Elston said.
With the loss, De Soto fell to 6-2 on the season, but can clinch the No. 2 district playoff spot with a win Thursday against Bonner Springs.
Tonganoxie, meanwhile, has a chance to replicate last year's regular season mark of 8-1 with a Thursday win against Perry-Lecompton.
This year's team, however, will have its first home playoff game in three appearances under Elston, who now is 30-15 in five years at Tonganoxie.
After losing 13 seniors from last year's squad, the Chieftains, on paper, appeared to have more of a challenge.
That really hasn't been the case this season.
Just ask Lawrence, a senior who was nursing some banged-up ribs after the game.
"It did make it even more special," Lawrence said, referring to the district title. "Especially with all that talk of how we lost all those players last year."
Tonganoxie 27, De Soto 26
THS (7-1, 2-0) 7 7 7 6 -- 27
DHS (6-2, 1-1) 0 14 0 12 -- 26
T -- Ross Starcher 5 run (Jeff Hughes kick)
D -- Leif Goleman 10 pass from Neil Erisman (kick failed)
T -- Zach Ditty 6 run (Hughes kick)
D -- Goleman 14 pass from Erisman (Goleman run)
T -- Ditty 4 run (Hughes kick)
D -- Danny Doherty 20 pass from Erisman (run failed)
T -- Sam Mitchell 59 run (kick blocked)
D -- Doherty 51 pass from Tyler Farmer (run failed)