By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
While they technically don’t start until Tuesday in Kansas Class 3A, the football playoffs begin Thursday as far as Galena, Riverton, Southeast and St. Mary’s-Colgan are concerned.
The four 3A-District 8 teams enter the final week of district competition with 1-1 records. It is one of only two districts in the state to enter the final week in that situation.
Galena (5-3) will travel to face Riverton (5-3), and Colgan (5-3) will be at Southeast (6-2).
Quite simply, it’s win and you’re in or lose and your season is over.
Colgan coach Chuck Smith, whose Panthers often ended the regular season by facing Frontenac for a district championship in the 1980s and 1990s, said the situation is familiar territory.
“For my first 20-plus years as coach, only one team made the playoffs,” Smith said. “So if you lost one you were out.”
Still, this year’s district remains unique. No team has been able to separate itself from the pack after two district games. Southeast and Colgan opened districts by beating Riverton and Galena, respectively. However, Riverton and Galena each responded this past Friday as the Rams beat the Panthers 21-20 and the Bulldogs defeated the Lancers 23-6.
“It kind of turned out in a sense how we thought,” Riverton coach Derrick Rider said. “We knew that any team in this district could beat any other team.”
The playoff teams will be determined by the winners, but the district champion will be determined by head-to-head results. Colgan holds the advantage over Galena, while Southeast would be district champs if Riverton is victorious. The Rams get the nod over Colgan, and Galena would top the Lancers.
Southeast coach Clint Rider said the focus is on beating Colgan, but the circumstances also allow him to root for Riverton, which is coached by his older brother Derrick.
Who wins the district has added significance when you consider the potential first-round playoff matchups. The district champion will host either 6-2 Neodesha or 3-5 Cherryvale, while the runner-up will have to travel to play a 7-1 Caney Valley team, which handed CNC League champion Girard its only loss of the season.
“The good thing for me is that I get to be a huge Riverton fan this week,” Clint Rider said.
He said the Lancers need to slow down Colgan’s rushing attack, which is led by senior running back Conner Dayton, who has rushed for 938 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We have to stop the Dayton kid first and foremost,” Clint Rider said. “He has great feet. He’s very fast.”
Both teams are dealing with injuries. Rider said the status of quarterback Josh Thompson remained unclear Tuesday after he suffered a concussion during Friday’s loss to Galena. Thompson has passed for 1,273 yards and 12 touchdowns. If Thompson doesn’t play, Southeast will turn to Caleb Biancarelli, who played in relief duty against Galena. Regardless of who is quarterback, the Lancers will want to get the ball to receivers Daniel Peak and Ryan Rakestraw, who are the team’s top big-play threats.
“We’re preparing like Thompson is going to play,” Smith said. “If he doesn’t play, they’re still going to get the ball in the hands of their receivers. But we’re preparing like he’s going to play.”
Colgan may be without senior fullback V.J. Piccini because of an ankle injury.
On the other side of the district, Galena and Riverton match up in a rivalry game with a lot on the line. Both team’s are coming off wins. The Bulldogs used its misdirection offense and passes from sophomore quarterback Kyler Cook to keep the Lancers off balance. Riverton used more than 200 yards passing from Chandler Underhill to take an early 21-7 victory and hold on to beat the Panthers by blocking a last-second field goal.
“It’s win and go on, or lose and go home,” Galena coach Beau Sarwinski said. “Both teams have had their ups and downs, and we’re going to find out what we’re made of.”