A look back: 1991 Tonganoxie football
The 1991 Tonganoxie Chieftains returned with plenty of experience on both sides of the ball from a 3-6 campaign in 1990.
Steve Hughes, who was entering his fourth year as head coach and sixth overall, felt confident this was going to be a special season considering there were many returning underclassman who got substantial experience starting at the varsity level
THS started out 0-5 the previous season, but finished the year strong going 3-1 and 2-1 in district play and just missing the playoffs with a loss to Bishop Ward.
The Chieftains welcomed Kaw Valley League newcomer Santa Fe Trail to the conference in the season opener. Tonganoxie assembled a dominant performance in a 42-19 victory against the Chargers. John Keeler led the Chieftains with four touchdowns. The Chargers would go on to be one of the state’s dominant teams in the 1990s, but Tonganoxie certainly had the upper hand that season.
In Week 2, it was on to Leavenworth to face the Immaculata Raiders and the defending league champion. The Raiders had gone 10-1 the previous season and until the KVL dissolved in 2017, held the league record for the least amount of points allowed in a nine-game season in 1990. THS scored late to pull within seven, and recovered the onside kick, but just couldn’t punch the ball in to tie the game, and lost 20-13. That would mark the last loss of the regular season for Tonganoxie in 1991.
THS came back home and engineered a great performance against De Soto. The Wildcats were the first dominant team early in the KVL and won at least a share of the title in four straight seasons from 1985-88. But in ’91, the Chieftains took care of the Wildcats, 40-12.
Next up was longtime county and league rival Lansing. The Chieftains were able to take care of the Lions, 21-7.
Homecoming is here and THS hosted Piper in one of the highest combined scoring outputs of the season. The winless Pirates took THS down to the wire, but the mighty Chieftains prevailed, 35-28.
Next was the short 6-mile trip to another longtime county rival in Basehor-Linwood. The game was delayed more than hour to fix a transformer that caused the lights to switch on. Coach Hughes did not want to pack up the team and delay the inevitable the next day but waited around for THS to pull out a 40-0 victory.
Tonganoxie entered district play in the final three weeks of the season with Holton, Perry-Lecompton and Royal Valley. HHS and RVHS of the Big 7 entered with a combined 2-10 record but all eyes were focused on the season finale with Perry-Lecompton. THS took care of Holton, 23-8, and may have been asleep in the first half of the Royal Valley game. THS went into the break down 13-0. But the focus returned for the second half and the Chieftains pulled out the 23-19 victory for the big showdown and the season finale with the Kaws. Both teams entered at 7-1 overall and 5-1 in league play, so the winner would win a share of the KVL and the district title. In addition, the winner would have the opportunity to keep playing or start winter sports practice, as only the district champion advanced to the playoffs at the time. A rule change made it so the top two teams would advance to the playoffs. Recently, the playoff system changed again and all teams play Week 9 in a win-or-go-home first round to the playoffs
Some bitter temperatures and a thin layer of snow greeted both teams at Beatty Field for one of the Lawrence area’s biggest games of the year.
A big defensive struggle ensued on what some of the older heads around town nicknamed the “Ice Bowl” and THS prevailed, 14-0, to get a share of the KVL title and a district crown. The Chieftains advanced to the 4A state playoffs and would play that following Saturday in Sabetha for their first playoff contest in 10 years.
Both teams entered with identical 8-1 records. Unfortunately, the frozen field that had been there last week had thawed and turned the Blue Jay field into a mud bath.
Brian Hammond stunned the hometown Jays by taking the opening kickoff 85 yards to the house for a quick 7-0 THS lead. But those were all the points the Chieftains would register. Their running game was ineffective that night, while Sabetha would score two touchdowns and add a field goal before eventually getting the 17-7 win.
SHS would go on to lose to Riverton in the 4A semifinals.
Seniors on the ‘91 team were Robbie Calovich, Chris Seufert, Jeremy Robbins, David Purcell, Tom Low, David Blancarte, Joe Bushnell, Johnny Owens, Willie Harris, Josh Ferguson, Eric Price and Ed Peel, with contributions from underclassman Jason Hicks, John Keeler, Andy Hurla, Mike Starcher, Kirk Rogers, Brian Hammond, Jake Munsterman, Chad Shearer, Justin Workman, Kenny Bradley, Larry Stean, Steve Moore, Tim Brundage, Gary Rogers and Travis Barger.
1991 TONGANOXIE FOOTBALL RESULTS
(Kaw Valley co-champions, district champions, bi-district runner-up)
Santa Fe Trail, W, 41-19 (1-0, 1-0)
Immaculata, L, 20-13 (1-1, 1-1)
De Soto, W, 40-12 (2-1, 2-1)
Lansing, W, 21-7 (3-1, 3-1)
Piper, W, 35-28 (4-1, 4-1)
Basehor-Linwood, W, 40-0 (5-1, 5-1)
Holton, W, 23-8 (5-1, 6-1)
Royal Valley, W, 23-19 (5-1, 7-1)
Perry-Lecompton, W, 14-0 (6-1, 8-1)
Sabetha, L, 17-7 (6-1, 8-2)
— Jeff Hughes researches local high school sports history in his free time. He’s also a Tonganoxie High graduate and son of former THS football coach Steve Hughes.