PLAINVILLE, Kan. - Plainville defeated Elkhart, 29-13, in a Class 1A home quarterfinal contest Friday night. Normally a big playoff win elicits an on-field celebration and cheers. This time, only a few claps pierced the eerie silence.
Plainville defeated Elkhart 29-13 in a 1A Playoff game in Plainville on Friday, November 9, 2018. (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com)
The reaction came because of a scary moment with 2 minutes and 2 seconds remaining. Elkhart senior quarterback Lane Whisennand, one of the state’s best players, threw a deep pass that Plainville junior Jared Casey picked off. Casey weaved through Elkhart’s defense and then raced down the left sideline.
He eventually scored but the touchdown was nullified when Plainville senior Ryan Junkermeier delivered a huge blind side hit on Whisennand around the Elkhart 40-yard line.
The game halted as medical personnel loaded Whisennand onto a stretcher and put him in an ambulance. The stadium fell quiet. Junkermeier, ejected from the contest, was in tears. Whisennand is expected to be OK.
Once the game resumed, Plainville kneed out its final offensive plays. Cardinal coach Grant Stephenson remained shaken postgame. Plainville moved to 9-2, and Elkhart finished 9-1.
“It was a good win, and it was a hard-fought battle,” Stephenson said. “I just wish we had a better feeling right now. We don’t try to do that to hurt anybody, and so we are praying and hoping the best for that kid, and we are completely sorry.”
Stephenson and Elkhart coach Chris Hattabaugh rode together to the hospital afterward.
“He was knocked out, and he had a little bit of neck pain,” Hattabaugh said. “But he was moving everything, he was answering questions, so I think it is just precautionary. He is probably going to have a pretty bad headache.”
Plainville will travel to Mid-Continent League rival Smith Center (10-1) in sub-state. The squads match up in sub-state for the third straight season and the sixth occasion in the last three years.
“You feel for the other team, and you feel for the other guy,” Plainville junior quarterback Jordan Finnesy said. “Because you want to be happy for the win, but then again it’s all about safety at the end of the day, and it’s more about player safety than getting a win or a loss.”
SC is 3-2 in the meetings and the squads have split the sub-states. This year, SC defeated Plainville, 21-10, in a Week 4 game the Cardinals led most of the contest.
“I have been wanting to play them again, and I think all of our guys are pumped up,” Finnesy said.
Elkhart, with just six seniors, reached the playoffs for the third year in a row. The Wildcats moved to 0-6 in the playoffs since 2009 against current MCL schools, though this margin marked the second-closest in those games.
“I have never coached a group of seniors that I love as much as this group,” Hattabaugh said.
Two years ago, Plainville beat Elkhart in the first round of the playoffs in a blowout win that featured a running clock.
Plainville was challenged in multiple contests this year and needed a last-second field goal to hold off Ell-Saline last week. Elkhart, in the Hi-Plains League, had easily played the weakest 1A strength of schedule, according to Prep Power Index.
“You have got to play your league schools, and that’s part of it,” Hattabaugh said. “We try to play the best schools in our league, and we are one of the ones that will take on the bigger schools in our league, and there’s really nothing you can do, because we just have a big league, and it’s not those guys’ fault.
“It’s just one of those deals where we run through the schedule since Week 1, and you don’t really know how to deal with adversity, but that downplays Plainville,” he added. “They have a good football team and did a good job against us. You’ve got to give them credit.”
On Friday, Plainville took advantage of several Elkhart key turnovers and penalties, along with short fields on a cold night where temperatures dipped under 20 degrees.
“The turnovers hurt, and just some penalties, but I tell you what, for their sake, they are night and day difference from us playing them two years ago,” Stephenson said. “They are a completely different team.”
Casey has had a unique week and finished with 16 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown, caught three receptions for 50 yards and a TD, picked off two passes and served as Plainville’s punter.
“We played a pretty solid game, it just kind of stinks to end like that,” Casey said. “My thoughts and prayers go to him and his family.”
Casey is the youngest in a big family. Last Sunday, Casey’s older sister, Amy, was in a car accident. A passerby pulled her from the car, which caught fire. Amy luckily suffered no injuries and was at the game.
“It was crazy,” he said. “You only live once, so you have got to make the most of it, and it was just a crazy feeling that I could have lost my sister.”
Casey’s older brother, Justin, is a veteran Plainville assistant coach. Their brother, former standout Andrew, is getting married Saturday in Plainville. The family was involved in a 3 p.m. rehearsal Friday before the contest. The team met at Plainville’s gym at 4 p.m. and Jared made it just in time.
“It all worked out pretty well,” he said.
The 6-foot, 220-pound Casey, a three-year starter, gave the Cardinals a 6-0 lead on an 8-yard run with 5:42 left in the first quarter.
“He is an amazing athlete all around,” Finnesy said. “He’s big for our team, and he always comes up big for us. He didn’t really get distracted all week. He’s always focused, and he comes in ready.”
Senior Tanner Copeland missed just his second extra point this fall. Elkhart took a 7-6 lead on a five-yard run from Whisennand, who had 20 carries for 130 yards and two TDs. He picked off a pass and had a 47-yard kick return.
However, Whisennand was 2 of 13 passing for 26 yards with four interceptions. Finnesy recorded two interceptions, the first with 35.7 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The Cardinals took over at the Elkhart 49-yard line and scored six plays later on a 1-yard Finnesy run.
Then, Plainville recovered the kickoff at the 36-yard line. Five plays later, Plainville had a 4th-and-4 from the Wildcat 15.
The Cardinals had a long count, and Elkhart was called for a five-yard penalty. Copeland bumped the lead to 15-7 on a 27-yard Copeland field goal.
After a three-and-out, Plainville took over at Elkhart’s 45, and eventually scored on an 8-yard Finnesy run for a 22-7 lead late in the first half.
Finnesy rushed 31 times for 97 yards and was 10 of 15 passing for 125 yards.
“The turnovers were huge during the game, they were really huge,” Elkhart senior Javier Gomez said. “Sometimes we just couldn’t hold onto the ball. Three-and-outs got us.”
Plainville’s defense held Elkhart at the Cardinal 4-yard line just before halftime.
Elkhart scored on the first possession of the second half for a 22-13 lead on a three-yard Whisennand run, though missed a key two-point conversion. The last score came after Plainville had another short possession at the Elkhart 44-yard line.
“Definitely in this weather, the field position is huge,” Casey said.
Casey caught a short pass and rumbled 14 yards for a touchdown with 11:09 left in the contest. The game’s tenor changed, though, with Whisennand’s injury.
“It’s kind of an awkward win,” Casey said. “I don’t really know, just kind of speechless feeling.”