Linenberger: Who needs superstitions for Tonganoxie High football’s Friday the 13th playoff battle
When it comes to sports, you might as well open Spotify, search “Stevie Wonder” and crank that “Superstitious” up to 11.
I brought an extra KU shirt along to watch the 2008 Final Four games — a wardrobe change was warranted in the National Semifinal game against North Carolina. And then, in the final 2 minutes of regulation in the title game against Memphis, clung tightly to a shirt that read “Don’t Stop Believin’” purchased at a bar in College Station, Texas, after KU dropped Texas A&M during that magical Orange Bowl season.
The 2016 World Series was even worse. Remember when we went in droves to restaurants and sports bars to watch sports? Yeah, the canvas grocery bag of Cubs trinkets and more accompanied me often during that ride.
But hey, it didn’t seem to hurt. The end result worked about pretty well for both the Jayhawks and the Cubs those years.
But now it’s Friday the 13th and Tonganoxie High football has the task of defeating what seems like a super hybrid of historic New York Yankees/New England Patriots/UCLA Bruins of Kansas high school football in Bishop Miege. I know, Joe Torre nor Jon Wooden didn’t coach football, but they did win a slew of championships, especially Wooden — consecutively.
Fun fact as I digress some more: Wooden helped build Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, the oldest college stadium west of the Mississippi River.
But back to the current Friday the 13th: No strolls under ladders so far for me today, but the cold November morning greeted me with a flat tire. Subsequently, I will be sporting some new treads on my vehicle in the near future.
So are any Leprechauns sporting Tonganoxie red today or will Lady Luck be humming the THS fight song?
The football roster doesn’t include any players wearing No. 13, but sporting the number doesn’t have to be the broken mirror that ruins a season.
After all, Wilt Chamberlain and Alex Rodriguez both wore the number. One can argue that it was a bad move for Dan Marino because he never won a Super Bowl ring. But throwing for 61,361 career passing yards and 420 touchdowns in 17 seasons with the Miami Dolphins seems like some pretty good mojo as well.
Marcus Herford, the former KU wide receiver, had a whole lot of success in that uniform while in Lawrence. He wore that number while helping the Jayhawks to the 2008 Orange Bowl and 2008 Insight Bowl titles. Interestingly enough, he now is head coach of an American football team in Italy.
As for Tonganoxie High football, they’ve got a few things in their favor, including some standout players of their own.
Tyler Bowden has been running wild and setting rushing records, while fellow senior Branden Martin is making his way into record books on the defensive side with his tackle totals at linebacker.
Senior quarterback Blake Poje has the best record among THS starting quarterbacks.
Jeff Hughes, a former THS quarterback himself who has been researching local football in recent years, said that, by his account, Poje likely has the best record in THS football history as a starting quarterback at 18-1. At the least, Poje has the best record in the past 70 years, per Hughes’ research.
His findings reach beyond World War II, though he’s still working to fill in some blanks between 1925-36. The Poje stat dates back to the late 1940s.
Tonganoxie has advanced to the state quarterfinal game four times: 1975, 1992, 1995, 2019 and 2020.
Tonight would be historic if the Chieftains could register a victory because A.) It would be the furthest any THS team has advanced in the state playoffs and B.) Would end Miege’s 6-year reign as state champion in Class 4A.
Football playoffs in Kansas started in 1969.
That 1975 team made Tonganoxie’s first postseason appearance and played in a doozy in that first playoff game. THS defeated St. Joseph’s (now St. Thomas Aquinas) in three overtimes before losing to Wamego. That WHS team then lost Parsons and Parsons then fell to Kapaun-Mount Carmel in the state championship.
In 1992, THS had its first-ever home playoff game. Tonganoxie defeated Piper that year at Beatty Field before losing to Maur Hill. That Maur Hill team went on to win a state title after defeating Girard and outlasting Wellington, 33-18, in the state championship game at Wichita.
The 1995 team lost to Hiawatha in the playoffs. Hiawatha defeated Paola and was 4A runner-up after losing to Pratt, 13-6.
Last year, THS defeated Baldwin, 49-0, and Spring Hill, 45-24, in the playoffs before losing to Miege, 54-10, a year ago. The Chieftains finished last season 10-1 and are 9-1 heading into the Miege game this season.
Tonight’s game has the makings of a classic game between two of the state’s best teams. Tonganoxie is ranked No. 1 by media outlets for the first time in school history entering the game, while Bishop Miege is ranked No. 2.
A victory tonight would also put this year’s senior class in a tie for the winningest class in school history.
Seniors in the Class of 2007 went 36-8 in their four years (2003-06) at THS. This year’s seniors could tie that team with 36 victories if Tonganoxie can knock off Miege tonight.
We’ll find out soon enough how wild the Friday the 13th game will be. Maybe it will require overtime like that first THS playoff game, which also involved a Johnson County-based private school.
Hughes noted that Kansas was a pioneer in the overtime format that was dubbed the “Kansas rule,” per accounts in a recent book published about 50 years of Kansas football playoff history. The local football historian said initial overtime rules for Kansas high school football went by the number of times each team advanced inside the opponents’ 10-yard line during the game. Subsequent tiebreakers then went to the 20 and then 30 and so on.
After a couple years, the Kansas rule was established. Each team gets four cracks at scoring from the 10-yard line, whether by touchdown and PAT/two-point conversion or a field goal.
Tonganoxie’s last tie in football came in 1970, according to Hughes.
Division-I college football didn’t implement the format until the 1990s. At that level, each team starts its overtime possession from the opponent’s 25-yard-line.
During his research, Hughes found that Perry-Lecompton and Valley Falls needed eight overtimes to determine a winner in a game played in the early 1970s. PLHS eventually won, 13-7.
Overtimes or not, the talent on both teams is bountiful, and that level of play is going to determine much of how tonight’s game plays out, not the wearing of the same shirt all season or a four-leaf clover.
If you don’t have a ticket to tonight’s game, you can follow The Mirror on Facebook or Twitter for updates or watch the livestream that will be broadcast online.
Oh, and one more thing. Sanitize your rabbit’s foot just in case.