WaKeeney wins thriller with key 4th down
VICTORIA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Ninth-year WaKeeney-Trego Community head coach Pat Haxton is known for his outgoing personality and talkative nature. With two minutes left Friday night, Haxton turned to the chain gang crew.
In a marquee matchup of top-five eight-man programs, Trego led 42-40 and faced fourth-and-2 from its own 28-yard line. Trego had not won a one-score contest since the 2017 season opener. Haxton elected to go for the first down.
“I looked at the guys running the chains, I said, ‘You suppose they will fire me if we don’t make this play?,” Haxton said, laughing. “I am just thinking, ‘Man, going oh Pat, what are you doing?”
Haxton, though, then turned serious.
“I feel comfortable with my kids,” Haxton said.
Haxton’s faith in his veteran group paid off. Junior quarterback Owen Day faced pressure and rolled out to the right. He threw a pass squarely to 6-foot-4 senior tight end Charlie Russell, who went 12 yards for the first down. Trego gained one more first down, ran out the clock and sealed the 42-40 victory on Victoria’s Homecoming, the biggest win for the Golden Eagles in recent memory.
“They are certain things we can do,” Haxton said. “Charlie Russell has got great hands, and he just runs routes so well, and he was smart enough to hold that a little bit longer. It was just a boot play. And he held it a little bit longer, just by him doing it, not me telling him to do it. He’s easy to throw to.”
Last year, Day suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Week 3 game against Victoria. He battled back from another knee problem this offseason and missed the first three weeks of fall camp. Russell started as a sophomore in football and elected not to play last fall. Russell was a first team all-state 2A basketball last winter before he came out this football season. Overall, the Golden Eagles returned all but two players from a 1-6 year in 2020.
“We had no doubt that we were going for it,” senior leader Cole Feldt said. “And we have five skill guys that are amazing, so we had so many options. And we just thought our best option was Charlie. Get two yards. He’s just a player. You have seen it in basketball, you see it here. He’s just a player. Proud to play with him. It’s amazing. Last year, we needed him. We definitely missed him. He’s just a great guy. He brings positivity to the team. He’s always happy, he’s always energetic, and he’s a great athlete.”
Trego is perhaps Kansas’ biggest surprise of 2021. The Golden Eagles ended last fall with six straight losses in a COVID-19 marred year. They won Week 1 against Chase when the Kats forfeited. In Week 2, they upset Wichita County, 76-28, though WC coach Brant Douglas was absent. The Indians were defending state runner-up. WaKeeney vaulted to fifth in CIK’s Eight-Man, Division I rankings after the win.
Tradition-laden Victoria, ranked No. 2 in Eight-Man, Division II, presented another challenge. Trego lost, 54-8, to the Knights last year. Victoria had won 11 straight regular season/Week 9 bracket play games and was 20-3 in its last 23 home contests.
“It’s the best kind of football there is,” Day said. “Game of the week, and it was the game of the week.”
Victoria dropped to 2-1, and WaKeeney improved to 3-0, its best start since 2016. As the clock ran out, Haxton wore an exuberant smile and continually pumped his fists.
“That’s the first big win as far as a close game,” Haxton said. “Where we have had to stay in it and win a game. We had to find a way to win the game, and that means a lot.”
Russell came over to Haxton and gave him a hug before the postgame handshake line.
“I love Charlie Russell,” Haxton said. “I would do anything in the world for Charlie Russell.”
The game was scoreless after the first quarter. Victoria took its first lead just before halftime. It completed a 43-yard pass from senior quarterback Grant Schoenrock to sophomore Seth Schwien with 14 seconds left. Schoenrock then scored a one-yard touchdown run. The Knights led 26-20 at intermission.
“I just asked them how bad they wanted to win the football game,” Haxton said. “Do they truly want to win this football game? Because I promise you the team across the field wants to win this football game. And you know, I never really sensed ‘oh (no), what just happened?’”
After 15 first-half passes from Day, the Golden Eagles elected to run more frequently in the second half. Day often served as the lead blocker for Feldt, an all-purpose threat, and junior running back James Kreigh.
“It’s just great to be on this team,” Feldt said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Kreigh tallied a 10-yard scoring run. Then, Russell picked off a pass that eventually led to a Day two-yard TD run. WaKeeney led 36-26 entering the fourth quarter.
“The big kid coming out helps them tremendously,” Oberle said of Russell. “We kind of changed our defense a little bit, and coach Haxton did a great job of realizing our coverage a little bit, and working him on the under, and our linebackers didn’t get there when they should have a few times. Team speed’s phenomenal.”
Schoenrock and senior fullback Nate Windholz, both highly experienced players, missed significant chunks of the second half with cramps. Still, junior backup quarterback Thaddeus Wohler led a pair of scoring drives. Junior Carson Werth tallied a 15-yard run to cut the deficit to 36-32.
Kreigh tacked on a 37-yard score for a 42-32 advantage with 7:55 left. Kreigh finished with 21 carries for 147 yards and two TDs.
“I wanted to feed James,” Haxton said. “Just give him the ball, give him the ball, give him the ball.”
“We don’t have that speed,” Oberle added.
Victoria came back on a nine-yard TD from Wohler. The conversion made the score 42-40 with just under five minutes to play. Oberle said he was “really pleased” with Wohler.
“For our young guys to step up with those two seniors down, leaders if you will of our team, I talked about that in the huddle, I was very pleased with that,” Oberle said.
Schoenrock and Windholz came back in on defense. Five Golden Eagle running plays set up the 4th-and-2 from the 29. Trego called a timeout. Throughout the second half, Haxton wanted to control the ball on a night where light rain fell for part of the evening and the grass became a little wet.
“I wasn’t sure we could ever stop them,” Haxton said.
He elected to go for the first down. Haxton called the boot play. If Victoria guarded Russell close, then Day has the option to run. This time, Day went back to avoid the pressure. At first, Day had planned to run. Then, Day said he saw Russell sneak out, and “threw a bullet to him.”
“Obviously it scares you, because it takes you six yards behind the line of scrimmage,” Haxton said.
Oberle knew Trego would try to cross and get “underneath” the defense. Day, a breakout player this year, finished 11 of 21 for 181 yards with two touchdowns with an interception. He rushed for 82 yards. In two on-field games this year, Day has nearly 600 yards of total offense.
“We tried to come off the edge a little bit on those plays,” Oberle said. “And I don’t know if we did a good job of that. Again, not necessarily something that we normally do. But we talk about it all the time – the little things, and somebody stepping up and making a play at a crucial time, and their guys did. And we didn’t necessarily there in the second half.”
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