Hesston to battle defending champ Rossville in 3A title

L to R: Rossville QB Jacob Bradshaw (Shari Gentry) & Hesston WR Tanner Bachman (Jacque Bretton)
By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Nov 25, 2016

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Hesston coach Clint Rider tailors much of his coaching style from Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.

“I love Urban Meyer,” Rider said.  Our kids would probably tell you that I talk about him too much.”

Rider often incorporates Meyer’s E+R=O formula, where the E stands for Event, the R for response and the O for Outcome. On Twitter, Rider uses #TheChase, a hashtag the Buckeyes used in their unexpected run to the national championship two seasons ago. He frequently speaks of building champions in three areas, fathers, scholars and on the field.

The equation has helped Hesston recover from a 1-3 start with opening road losses to Garden Plain (33-27), Halstead (26-24) and a Week 4 defeat against Nickerson (36-27).

Since then, the Swathers have won nine straight, including back-to-back wins against higher-ranked teams in Phillipsburg (38-26) and Hoisington (35-19). Hesston is in its third state game in school history with a runner-up showing in ’89 and a championship in ’92.

“You want to use the Urban Meyer E+R=O kind of method,” Rider said. “What was our response going to be, and there was just no finger pointing between any of our players, and they just kept working, and we got a couple of wins, and I think that kind of built some confidence.”

On Saturday, Hesston (10-3) plays two-time defending champion Rossville (12-1) in the Class 3A state title game. Start time is 1 p.m. from Hutchinson’s Gowans Stadium. It’s a rematch from the ’92 state game that Hesston won, 3-0, with a first quarter field goal.

“I don’t know if we thought we would have been in this position a month and a half ago, but my goodness, just an incredible group of guys to be around,” Rider said.

Rossville, tied with Claflin for fourth all-time in state playoff victories with 56, is 52-2 under fourth-year coach Derick Hammes.

The Bulldawgs are 3-1 in games decided by a single score, including a 34-28 road win versus Sabetha in the second round and a 27-22 victory against Nemaha Central last week in a contest that came down to the final seconds.

“It’s about being in a program where these things are expected,” Hammes said. “There have been players and great teams that have come through here that have really given this program a mindset that they believe that they are going to win.”

Rossville graduated quarterback Tucker Horak, who set multiple state records and won the Kpreps Get Busy Livin’ Player of the Year honor, but retooled behind senior quarterback Jacob Bradshaw and multiple players stepping up into some new key roles.

Bradshaw has 263 rushes for 2,453 rushing yards and 29 scores. He has also completed 110 of 153 passes for 1,627 yards with 22 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Senior Cole Schumacher has 52 catches for 1,024 yards and 18 scores.

Hesston counters with an explosive pass offense with senior quarterback Zach Esau. He has completed 158 of 261 passes for 2,688 yards with 28 scores against 13 interceptions.

Esau has rushed 211 times for 962 yards and 19 touchdowns. Sophomore Parker Roth has 177 carries for 1,135 rushing yards, also with 19 scores.

Four receivers have at least 339 yards, led by 50 catches for 903 yards and 10 TDs from senior Zach Vogt. Sophomore Cameron Cox missed several games with a toe injury but has 41 catches for 741 yards and five TDs. Hesston averages 56 snaps a contest, six more than Rossville.

“He made some throws the other night (against Hoisington), he is throwing it before the guy is open,” Rider said of Esau. “I think Zach Vogt has said he thinks he’s the best quarterback in 3A, and I would agree.”

However, a underrated key for both teams has been the development of the line play, especially offensive.

“In many ways, they could be similar to us,” Hammes said of Hesston. “Their team started to develop as the year went on. They have been tested throughout the year, and they have had some answers, so that’s to me is what’s impressive is when a coach can get his team all on the same page.”

Early on, Rider believed Hesston had a chance to win all three games they lost. In reference to Halstead, Rider said he “kind of felt like we gave that one way,” a contest Hesston led by 10 late.

In the season opener, Hesston permitted Garden Plain to run for 417 yards and 7.9 yards per carry. That included a big game from Garden Plain standout Nate Pauly, who Rider likens to Bradshaw.

In the postseason, Hesston had a second round 35-20 victory against Chaparral and limited the Roadrunners to 2.8 yards per carry. They held Chaparral standout Jacob Jenkins to 65 rushing yards and 3.3 yards a carry. In the quarterfinals, Hesston limited Phillipsburg to its second-lowest point total this year.

Before the victory against top-ranked Hoisington, the Swathers watched Ohio State/Alabama from the playoffs two years ago. Alabama, led by its ground game, was the heavy favorite, but the Buckeyes pulled off the upset.

“I think there’s a lot of similarities,” Rider said. “Hoisington is a big power team and kind of running at you, and Ohio State is a little smaller and running around you. Not picked to win. Everybody thought that Alabama was going to win that game, and so we kind of talked about that game a lot. It’s always easier to play when you’ve got a little bit of a chip on your shoulder.”

Hesston permitted Hoisington to have the ball for more than 34 minutes but held the Cardinals to 4.7 yards per carry, including only 66 on 13 carries for speedy Cameron Davis. Entering the game, the Cardinals permitted 9.3 yards per carry, including 14.6 by Davis.

Senior Jake Wingfield, a former linebacker, and one of Hesston’s top offensive/defensive linemen this season, missed the first two games because of meniscus surgery in early August. He wasn’t in game shape the first couple of weeks but has emerged as an anchor on both sides.

On the offensive line, Wingfield and sophomore right tackle Sean Duerksen are the lone returners with any starting experience. Both started in a very limited capacity in 2015. Wingfield was in the backfield for most of last year.

Sophomore Tyler Mason is at left tackle, junior Jesus Ramirez at left guard, and sophomore Alex Koehn at center.

Rider labeled Wingfield a “chameleon” who has played both defensive end and tackle and guard/tackle on offense. Sophomore defensive end Blake Martin has worked hard in the weight room and on his mechanics and emerged. Senior outside linebacker David Merchant is undersized at 160 pounds, but Rider said he’s “done everything we’ve asked.”

Senior Alex Hostetler is 150 pounds at linebacker but often played at the line of scrimmage against Hoisington 255-pound all-state lineman Landen Urban and slowed Cardinal running backs on several plays; Rider called him a “huge surprise.” Roth has stepped in at linebacker, too.

“We’ve been able to contain some teams on the edge a little bit better,” Rider said.

Vogt is at strong safety and Esau at free safety. Each are returning starters for a defense that ranked No. 1 in 3A last year. Esau’s was the team’s defensive player of the year last week.

“He made so many tackles at four- and five-yard depth that maybe most safeties wouldn’t have made until 10 yards and just didn’t allow them to fall forward or keep churning,” Rider said.

The offensive line has helped Rossville average nine yards per play; Hesston is at seven. Hammes credited offensive line coach Dan Schneider – “the best o-line coach you can find” – for building the group.

Schneider, a soft-spoken, good communicator, has started four seniors: Jackson Reeves at right tackle, Malcolm Gillum at right guard, Jared Ebert at center, T.J. Fielder at left tackle, and junior left guard Max Wustenhagen. Reeves was the lone returning starter and missed the first couple of games. Since he returned, Hammes said the group “has really started to take off.”

“The expectations on the outside were a little bit lower than the expectations that we had for ourselves, and I thought there was a good upside for this football team,” Hammes said. “I knew we would have to be healthy. I knew that there would have to be some development that took place. Again, it goes back to that o-line development. That was a huge question mark coming into the year.”

Senior Dawson Hammes missed three early games with a thumb injury. The thumb has limited his pass-catching abilities. However, he still leads the team with 156 tackles and has 315 in the last two seasons. Junior Sheldon Hulbert has 117 tackles and took over after junior Reed Miller was hurt in early season.

“I don’t know if we are sitting here today without a kid like him,” Hammes said.

Last week, with the season on the line, senior Wyatt Dyche made a key interception in the end zone to defeat Nemaha Central, his team-high third pick this year.

“What makes it gratifying is we not only did a good job of putting the pieces of the puzzle together, but we overcame adversity early in the football season,” Hammes said.

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