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Wheatland-Grinnell makes it three straight after rivalry win

Wheatland-Grinnell defeated Quinter 58-26 in Grainfield on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Everett...
Wheatland-Grinnell defeated Quinter 58-26 in Grainfield on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Everett Royer, KSportsImages.com)
Published: Sep. 25, 2021 at 12:10 AM CDT
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GRAINFIELD, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Wheatland-Grinnell enjoyed the best season in school history with an 8-3 mark last fall. The Thunderhawks returned the bulk of its skill positions with senior running back Isaac Mendez, and the Vincent brothers: senior quarterback Trey and junior wide receiver Jett. Plus, key seniors Tyrell Chapin and Ryan Heier were back. W-G opened the year ranked fifth in Eight-Man, Division II and traveled to Axtell, which started fourth.

However, the preseason was problematic for the Thunderhawks with key players limited. Plus, W-G didn’t have a jamboree after Victoria cancelled after a school tragedy. For the second straight season, the Thunderhawks took a big loss to Axtell, this time by 46 points.

“Depressing,” coach Jesse Vincent said. “I was very disappointed in our performance. I think a large part of that showing was we had had five to seven starters just dinged up, strained muscles, little things. We didn’t have a full squad for varsity in practice for the three weeks of preseason, and that killed us.”

Wheatland-Grinnell defeated Quinter 58-26 in Grainfield on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Everett...
Wheatland-Grinnell defeated Quinter 58-26 in Grainfield on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Everett Royer, KSportsImages.com) (Everett J. Royer)

Since then, W-G has improved in multiple areas and earned three straight quality wins, including a 58-26 Homecoming victory against Gove County rival Quinter on Friday. The Thunderhawks earned their third straight win in the series and scored their most points ever against the Bulldogs. W-G, which led 20-12 at halftime, had big games from multiple players, and took control of Eight-Man, Division II, District 8.

“We are still not to where we can be,” Jett said. “Fix those little minor details, and we can go win a state championship.”

Quinter is 3-1, though senior quarterback Jaden Boone had suffered recent injury and played the game with a cast on his left forearm. He was expected to only play defense, though did take some snaps at quarterback.

“We didn’t know Boone was going to be out until today,” Chapin said. “We were preparing for Quinter at their best, so that way we could play our best.”

Boone had trouble corralling snaps with the cast. Boone was banged up in the second half. Junior Preston Havlas finished 15 of 29 for 145 yards, and sophomore Trace Kinderknecht rushed for a pair of scores. W-G is ranked seventh in the CIK rankings, Quinter tenth.

“Things weren’t going well,” Quinter coach Jeff Savage said. “And when your best player is standing there, it’s frustrating. Our type of offense is built around throwing the football.”

In the Axtell game, Mendez played fullback and finished with six carries for six yards after more than 1,500 rushing last season. Plus, coach Vincent wanted his team to become more physical.

Wheatland-Grinnell defeated Quinter 58-26 in Grainfield on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Everett...
Wheatland-Grinnell defeated Quinter 58-26 in Grainfield on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Everett Royer, KSportsImages.com) (Everett J. Royer)

“It was our first live contact, and we were playing some young guys up front,” coach Vincent said. “We were just shell-shocked. They came out and hit us in the mouth and ran the ball down our throat, as well as threw it all over. It was a tough thing for us to swallow, but probably one of the best things that has happened and made me glad to have them on our schedule.”

In Week 2, Wheatland-Grinnell beat Kinsley, 58-34, a team known for running. W-G won at Stockton, 63-8, in Week 3. Quinter and Kinsley are now 6-0 when not playing the Thunderhawks. Axtell will take over the No. 1 ranking in Division II after it beat defending state champion Hanover, 30-24, on Friday.

“The biggest part is probably just our willingness to hit,” coach Vincent said. “At Axtell, I just felt like we were taking all the hits. I tell our kids all the time, ‘Don’t be the nail, be the hammer.’ And at Axtell, we were not. They definitely were beating us to the punch on everything, everywhere. So that was our biggest change. I was worried about Kinsley. …For us to have that turnaround and mentality, just be willing to hit, again that was a good thing.”

W-G delivered physical play throughout against Quinter. Mendez helped the Thunderhawks to a 24-6 third quarter advantage. Overall, he broke multiple tackles, including three on a nine-yard TD run late in the third quarter.

Wheatland-Grinnell defeated Quinter 58-26 in Grainfield on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Everett...
Wheatland-Grinnell defeated Quinter 58-26 in Grainfield on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Everett Royer, KSportsImages.com) (Everett J. Royer)

“In their first game, the running back didn’t get an opportunity to do his thing because they had him out at a fullback position,” Savage said. “So without him getting touches, that changes things dramatically for them. They have grown as a team. They threw a lot of new things out tonight that we haven’t seen on film, so when they are faster and more athletic in space, eventually they are going to have big plays, and that’s exactly what happened.”

He finished with 19 carries for 95 yards and four rushing touchdowns, kicked a pair of extra points, and returned a first-half fumble 54 yards for a TD. Mendez, a surprise at kicker, can consistently deliver touchbacks.

“When he can put the ball out the back of the end zone, it makes our job way easier,” Chapin said.

The 150-pound Chapin, who earned Homecoming King at halftime and focuses on defense, finished with three sacks, three forced fumbles and a key quarterback hurry that forced a fourth down incompletion. Junior Adam Phillips recovered a fumble and had an athletic interception when he deflected the ball in the air and made the match. Chapin entered Friday with an exceptional 12 career forced fumbles.

“I do my job coming out full speed on defense,” Chapin said. “So I keep my teammates in shape for offense. Our old coach always said, ‘Rip for the ball.’ … Be mean with your hands, aggressive hands.”

Trey Vincent, in his fourth year as the starter, finished 14 of 21 for 234 yards and four touchdowns. Jett delivered eight catches for 166 yards and four TDs, including two terrific grabs just inside the left pylon with double coverage. He set career highs for single contest receiving yards and scores.

“Second half, they executed the vertical ball really well,” Savage said. “I mean, they were great throws with tight coverage, and they made plays, and those are just athletic plays they made.”

Trey and Jett have thrown together since they were children. Trey audibled two of the plays from run calls that led to fade routes and touchdowns. Jett has at least one receiving score in 14 of his last 15 games.

“We got better and better, I felt like the first three weeks of non-district games,” coach Vincent said. “This was kind of an exciting week. Just because we knew Quinter has been playing so good, and wanted to see where we were at, if we were better than we were when we saw Axtell. So yeah, this is exciting for the boys to pull this off on Homecoming.”

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