Rematch has bigger reward
Rematches are rare during a football season.
Despite the odds, Friday's Class 4A sub-state football contest will feature two teams familiar with each other. The Baldwin High School Bulldogs (10-2) will travel to take on the Louisburg Wildcats (12-0) for a shot at redemption for a mid-season loss.
One difference -- winner of this game receives a berth into the 4A state title game on Nov. 24 in Salina.
"Our players see this as a rematch," BHS coach Mike Berg said. "They respect Louisburg and what kind of team they have. I don't think it's going to be a lopsided game either way, unless a team comes out and makes a lot of mistakes."
The two Frontier League teams will meet for the second time in Louisburg this fall. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. Friday.
The first game featured spurts by both teams, but in the end Louisburg played more mistake free and won 31-20 on Sept. 28.
"We haven't made the mistakes that we did in that game," Berg said. "We had a lot of missed tackles and four turnovers, three of which were in a row."
The Bulldogs don't have to be reminded of their four turnovers in the first game. Three of those four came on the Bulldogs' opening three possessions of the second half.
If they want to win and advance to the state championship, the Bulldogs know they must play mistake free.
"After watching film this week, coach Berg helped us realize what we can do when we don't make mistakes," junior Sam Beecher said. "We realize how good we can be if we all do our jobs and play to our potential."
On Sept. 28, the Wildcats jumped out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. They scored on three plays longer than 28 yards, two of which were passes.
"We gave them a 21-0 lead and they were all on big plays," Berg said. "One was a deep pass, one was a counter that he cut back across the field and the last one was that little swing pass up the sideline. You can't give a great team like Louisburg a 21-point lead."
Baldwin rallied back to score two touchdowns during the final minute of the half. A fumbled kick off helped BHS score after its first touchdown.
Unfortunately for BHS, it coughed the ball up three times to begin the second half. Louisburg extended its lead to 31-14 before BHS would score its final points.
Both teams enter Friday's contest winning their 4A sectional games, but in drastically different styles. Baldwin thumped Columbus 56-22 at home Friday as it rushed for more than 370 yards.
Beecher and senior Jared Hall combined for 61 carries. The Bulldogs were without the use of senior Gabe Mason in the backfield, but Berg was proud of his two running backs.
"They had 60 carries between them," Berg said. "We've been running with three or four backs, so we had two guys carry the load. They did a super job. They ran as hard as they have all year. I was proud of them. They will be the first ones to tell you that it was the offensive line that helped them."
However, he knows Louisburg's defense will be much stingier than Columbus'. The Wildcats left perennial 4A powerhouse Holton with a 10-3 win last week. They scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery late in the game to clinch the win.
"Their defense is what's so good," Berg said. "Their offense is great, but their offense didn't score a touchdown last week. Their defense held Holton to under 200 yards of offense. Their defense is darn good."
Both teams play smash-mouth football, but Berg credited Louisburg's speed after the first contest. He still knows they have the speed to break plays open, but he is happy to return to the trenches on defense.
Baldwin's three previous teams have used a spread offense and primarily passed on every down. That won't be the case Friday.
"It's back to power football and play-action pass," Berg said. "Hopefully, our kids are up for that task, because they have been doing a lot of back pedaling for the last three weeks."
Baldwin will continue its running attack with the single wing formation that has brought success all season long.
"We're not changing anything," Beecher said. "It's what we do best and we've gotten better since the first time we played Louisburg. We are going to keep doing the same thing."
Berg agreed with Beecher, but said he will open the passing playbook if necessary.
"That's our strength, so we are going to stick with what we do well," Berg said of running the football. "If they shut our running game down, then we will most definitely want to throw the ball. We always have that in our back pocket if we need it. But, like I always say, three things can happen when you pass and two of them are bad. I'd rather keep it on the ground as much as possible."
The last time BHS was playing in the state semifinals was 1988, when it beat St. Thomas Aquinas to reach the state championship. Baldwin lost the title game to Scott City.
If the Bulldogs wish to reach the championship game again, Berg knows how they can do it.
"We just have to have a quick start like we did Friday night and take care of the ball," Berg said. "We need to control the clock, shorten the game and block like we did Friday night."