Tonganoxie, Baldwin set for regional clash
Even with district supremacy still very much up for grabs, football enthusiasts in Baldwin and Tonganoxie were talking about this one weeks ago. District titles have since been won, the playoff picture has come into focus and the wait is finally over.
In one of the state's premier Class 4A regional matchups, the 10-0 Bulldogs will clash with the 9-1 Chieftains at 7 p.m. at Beatty Field.
"You win and you go on, or you lose and you're done," THS coach Al Troyer said. "We both have a bunch of seniors, so it's going to come down to heart and who can make the plays. We match up similar, so it's just going to be fun."
After going 3-0 in their respective districts, Troyer's Chieftains and coach Mike Berg's Bulldogs took vastly different roads to tonight's matchup in Tuesday's bi-district round. Tonganoxie didn't allow an offensive touchdown in a 52-6 romp of Bishop Ward, while Baldwin pulled away in the fourth quarter of a 19-0 win against St. James Academy. Both games were rematches of regular-season contests.
Both teams are back in the regional round of the playoffs for the second straight year. They have followed similar blueprints this season, including offenses chock full of scoring threats and defenses capable of big stops on any given series.
Tonganoxie, whose only loss came to 5A Mill Valley, has averaged 396.9 yards of offense — 294.9 on the ground — behind quarterback Tyler Ford and running backs Cole Holloway and Shane Levy. Ford has thrown for 1,002 yards and 16 touchdowns, compared to just three interceptions. Holloway has led the rushing attack with 1,311 yards and 13 scores, while Levy and Ford have added 734 and 623 yards, respectively.
"I think it's going to provide one of our biggest challenges of the year," Berg said. "In the Frontier League, we see a lot of teams that like to pound the ball between the tackles. Not only can Tonganoxie do that, but they have a really good passing game."
Six Chieftains have at least 100 receiving yards in 2013. Ben Johnson has emerged as the team's top target with 13 catches for 315 yards and six touchdowns.
Baldwin will counter with a defense allowing just nine points per game this season. It owns two shutouts this season, including a 61-0 victory against Ottawa on Oct. 18.
"It's a tough defense, but we feel we're up for the challenge," Troyer said. "We match up so well offensively and defensively, it may not be that high-scoring of a game like everybody thinks."
The Bulldogs' run game has been even more potent than that of THS, as they average 379.6 yards per game on the ground. Quarterback Chad Berg leads the charge with 1,337 yards and 14 touchdowns, while running back Cornell Brown has 931 yards and a team-best 18 scores. Jake Katzer has complemented those numbers with 705 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a team, Baldwin has 50 scores on the ground.
Chad Berg has also done some damage through the air, throwing for 676 yards and 10 touchdowns. Brown leads the receiving corps with 11 catches for 267 yards and five touchdowns.
Excluding a 58-42 win in its season opener against Lansing, THS has allowed just 14.4 points per game and has held its opponent to a single touchdown or less in four games. The Chieftains have been particularly stout against the run, allowing just 95 yards per contest.
Only two players — Mill Valley's Ty Bruce and Perry-Lecompton's Austin Kurtz — have eclipsed the 100-yard mark against THS this season.
"They're big up front. They're probably one of the biggest teams we've played," Mike Berg said. "Every week, we line up against good defenses in the Frontier League, and looking at film, I think they're very comparable, if not better, than some of the teams we've played."
The winner of tonight's contest will advance to next week's sectional round, where it will face the winner of Coffeyville-Field Kindley (9-1) and Chanute (8-2).