Starcher, Chieftains scramble past Ward
A spectator might have thought THS quarterback Ross Starcher carried his team Friday against Bishop-Ward.
If not, he certainly carried about half of the Cyclone defense with him into the end zone in the fourth quarter.
With his team trailing 6-0 with 1:42 left in the game, Starcher was at the Bishop-Ward 15. The drive started on the Ward 25 after the Cyclones coughed up a crucial fumble.
When Starcher wasn't handing off to his backs, he often was scrambling for yardage.
On first-and-10 from the 15, Starcher again dropped back as if to pass and then found a seam. He scooted 10 yards and fought those last five yards with a horde of Cyclones trying to bring him down.
They couldn't do it.
The score knotted the game at six and swung the momentum in Tonganoxie's favor. A late special-teams score put the Chieftains up for good as the fourth-quarter rally gave them a 13-6 win.
Starcher, who was fighting leg cramps throughout the game, had his legs chugging full steam when he reached the end zone for that first score.
"It was all up front," Starcher said. "If (Zach) Ditty and (Brandon) Willis weren't there, it wouldn't be."
Starcher rushed 12 times for a whopping 136 yards.
"What can you say about Ross Starcher?" THS coach Mark Elston said.
Starcher also picked off a Cyclone pass and blocked Ward's extra-point in the third quarter.
Tonganoxie finished the game with 38 rushes for 255 yards. Sam Mitchell had 9 rushes for 13 yards, Zach Ditty 10 carries for 57 yards and Brandon Willis seven touches for 49 yards.
The running game provided highlights, but special teams and defense also provided a few plays that garnered a second look.
Starcher blocked an extra point, while Willis landed a big hit on a pass play late in the game. Mitchell then broke up a pass before Willis blocked a Ward punt around the Ward 10-yard-line. Kaleb Lawrence then scooped up the ball and scored Tonganoxie's winning touchdown with 1:08 left in the game.
Elston said he could feel something brewing during a time out before Ward's final punt.
"I could feel we were going to block it or they were going to have a bad snap," Elston said.
Lawrence said he sensed somebody on the team was going to block the punt before the play unfolded as well.
"Willis blocked it, I just scooped it up," Lawrence said.
Aaron Adcox scooped up a Ward fumble on the previous series that led to Tonganoxie's first score.
THS again was relentless with its rushing defense. Ward ran the ball 24 times for a total of 7 yards on the ground.
Ward was successful through the air, however, with 188 yards on 11-of-23 passes.
BWHS had one final shot at a score, but on second down, Ditty came down with an interception after a THS lineman tipped the pass. Ditty, however, didn't realize Lawrence also was going for the pick, and the teammates had a collision.
"That hurt when I got the pick," Ditty said with a chuckle.
Now 2-0 for the second consecutive year, THS will look to stay undefeated against the team that spoiled the Chieftains' drive for a perfect regular season last fall. Piper handed Tonganoxie its only regular season loss and denied the Chieftains the No. 1 spot in districts heading into the playoffs with a 17-14 win.
PHS also kept the Chieftains out of the No. 1 slot the previous year with a 7-0 win at Piper.
The pair of undefeated teams will kick-off at 7 p.m. Friday at Piper. PHS is coming into the game with wins against Santa Fe Trail and Bonner Springs.
"We've been looking forward to this all year," Starcher said.
THS football notes
Run, coach, run. Mark Elston was whistled for a penalty late in the first half for standing outside the coach's box. It's customary for the players to run sprints on Monday for penalties. This Monday, Elston joined his players.
"The team ran 20," Elston said. "I didn't make all 20, but I was in front of the linemen on most of the hills I'd run.
"But I got gassed very quickly."