After two weeks of play, all four teams in the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s Class 4A District 15 are still alive for a playoff berth.
The feat of all four teams remaining alive after two weeks, with just one game left to play, happened because McPherson defeated Abilene 47-14 and Smoky Valley defeated Chapman 21-14.
McPherson has already clinched at least a playoff berth but Abilene, Chapman and Smoky Valley are still in the battle for that second playoff berth.
Next week Chapman plays at McPherson and Smoky Valley plays at Abilene. McPherson is 2-0 in the district standings with a +26 point tie-breaker advantage, Smoky Valley and Chapman are both 1-1 with -6 in the points-tie-breaker column while Abilene is at 0-2 and –14 but the Cowboys could still earn second place in the district.
For Abilene to qualify it would need to defeat Smoky Valley by at least seven points and have McPherson defeat Chapman by more than Abilene defeats Smoky Valley. In that scenario Abilene, Smoky Valley and Chapman would all be tied with 1-2 records, with all three beating each other. Abilene, if it defeats the Vikings by at least more than seven points and by more than McPherson defeats Chapman, the Cowboys win the points-tie-breaker.
If Smoky Valley defeats Abilene, which has only won one game all season, the Vikings are the district runner-up. If Chapman defeats McPherson and Smoky Valley defeats Abilene then there will be three teams tied at 2-1 and the point scenario would come down to the differential between how many points each team won by.
"If we win, we are in," Smoky Valley head coach Chris Hattabaugh said of next week’s game, which will be played in Abilene. "Abilene, they are kind of in the same boat. If we were to stumble next week it will come down to points. … It will be fun, it will be a challenge but hopefully our kids will rise up and we can get it done."
Friday night, however, things were simple, technically, for the Vikings. They knew they needed to defeat Chapman to do two things. A) keep their playoffs hopes alive and B) secure a winning record for the season.
Those two things were accomplished for the Vikings, who needed to erase a 1-point (7-6) halftime deficit against the Fighting Irish, which they did by outscoring Chapman 15-7 in the second half.
"We weren’t able to run the football, which is typically a strength for us," Hattacaugh said. "It forced us to throw it a little more and we were right on the money with a lot of the stuff we did. We ran well enough in the second half to open up our play action game. Our kids just made plays."
The game began as a defensive battle with Chapman limiting Smoky Valley to just 21 yards rushing and 95 total yards of offense in the first half while the Vikings limited Chapman to 100 total yards of offense in the first half, 72 on the ground and 28 through the air.
Each team scored a touchdown in the first half, with Smoky Valley finding the end zone first with a 4-play, 51-yard drive which was punctuated with a 3-yard run by Curtis Carlson with 4:36 remaining before intermission.
Jarod DeMott, however, missed the ensuing PAT kick, leaving the Vikings with just a 6-0 lead.
The Fighting Irish, answered that touchdown with a 16-play, 62-yard drive of its own which was punctuated with a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Harris to slot back Logan Lehmkul with just 0:09 seconds remaining before intermission.
This time, Chapman’s Joshua Chening’s PAT kick sailed through the uprights and the Irish went to the locker room at intermission clinging to a 7-6 lead.
The Irish, who won the opening coin toss but deferred possession of the ball until the second half, began the second half with another 16-play drive, this one covered 76 yards and was punctuated by Logan Lexow’s 1-yard plunge.
Lexow, who finished the game with 145 yards on 30 carries, had 12 carries on the scoring drive for Chapman and Hattanbaugh knew he needed to find a way to slow the Chapman running back down.
"One simple adjustment we made, is they were hitting us to their tight end side, we had shut down their veer to the weak side and our defensive end, you know, he is 6-foot-4 and he wasn’t able to see it quick enough so we just simply told him we wanted him to stand up and tighten him up a little and he was able to see the play a lot better and make the stop on the veer back."
The Vikings did slow Lexow down and went on to score two more touchdowns of their own.
The first Smoky Valley score came on its very next possession as it marched 58 yareds on six plays, the final 25 coming on a touchdown pass from quarterback Ethan Loder to receiver Holden Hendricks with 2:27 remaining in the contest, bringing the Vikins back to within two points, 14-12, of the Irish.
Hendricks and Loder connected again on the ensuing 2-point conversion and the game stood knotted 14-14 with 2:27 remaining.
"We knew they were going to be in man coverage so we called our blow," Hattabaugh said. "Which is essentially, it is not a pick, but we are trying to screen off the outside guy and he ran with him well and the guy who sets the pick, if you will, he just went to the corner of the end zone and Ethan made a great throw."
Chapman then put together a 16 play drive again, but this time the drive was thwarted by Smoky Valley as Christian Hansen intercepted a Harris pass from the Viking 2-yard line and returned it to the Viking 5 yard line.
Smoky Valley then put together a 14 play drive of its own, covering 95 yards and punctuated when Hendricks and Loder connected again, this time on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:42 remaining in the game.
This time DeMott’s PAT kick sailed through the uprights, giving Smoky Valley a 21-14 lead.
"I will have to look at the film I don’t know if it was a clean snap or a clean set," Hattabaugh said of the missed PAT kick in the first half. "Jarod has got a real strong leg. He is just a sophomore so there are times where he still struggles a bit. He banged that last one through which could have been huge if they would have went down and scored. We have faith in him, we will just have to look and see what caused him to miss that one."
Chapman was able to pick up one first down on the ensuing possession but back-to-back pass incompletions on third and fourth downs gave the ball back to the Vikings, who simply kneeled on it twice to secure the victory and keep their playoff hopes alive.