Battle of Indians to determine title berth in 8-man DI
There are three unbeaten teams left in 8-man Division I football in the state of Kansas. And one team looking to show that an early-season loss is not the true statement of who they are as a unit.
When No. 4 Wichita County played No. 2 St. Francis during district play, the Indians of St. Francis dominated, and ended the game at halftime. The boys from Leoti, however, are not playing like that team that lost, 46-0, back five weeks ago.
The two teams will meet again on Friday in St. Francis with a berth into the KSHSAA 8-Man Division I State Championship game on the line.
It’s the classic high-scoring offense – Wichita County has scored 650 points in 11 games, including 216 in the playoffs – against a tough defense – St. Francis has allowed just 42 points all season, and hasn’t allowed a point since Oct. 18.
Experience may factor in as well. St. Francis has been in this position before - just last season - while Wichita County is in only their second state semifinal ever, and first since 1990.
You can expect Sainty to rely heavily on backs Brady Dinkel and Shadyron Blanka, both of whom finished with over 100 yards in the 50-0 romp over Hodgeman County in the Quarterfinals last Friday. St. Francis - who combines a tough, physical defense with a single-wing offense - hasn't allowed a point on defense since giving up 12 to Trego on Oct. 18 - posting four straight shutouts in the process.
All season, the Wichita County Indians’ offense has revolved around junior signalcaller Kayde Rietzke, and since being held to a season-low 30 yards rushing, and 12-of-24 passing for 130 yards against St. Francis back on Oct. 11, has been on fire.
Rietzke has put together a five-game stretch that most players would take for an entire season’s worth of production. Since the loss, Rietzke has rushed for 962 yards and 15 touchdowns, while completing 67.5 percent of his passes for 882 yards and 16 touchdowns, against two interceptions.
While Rietzke’s production should be lauded, it’s easy to forget that the Indians have more weapons than just their quarterback.
Jesse Gardner provided that in spades last week in the 74-38 win over Little River. Gardner had 17 carries for 247 yards and six touchdowns in the quarterfinal win. Gardner became a factor when Little River paid close attention to Rietzke to attempt to keep him contained. You could expect that Gardner will see more than two rushing attempts this week against St. Francis, who held the junior running back to just two rushing yards in the loss.
For the season, Gardner has 907 yards rushing and another 281 receiving, with 23 total touchdowns.
Rietzke’s top target in the passing game is Sheldon Whalen, who has strung together four straight 100-plus yard receiving games, including a season-high 213-yard effort against Decatur Community on Oct. 25. Whalen has 55 catches for 957 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns.
Whalen has also been a force on defense, especially the past two weeks. He has 24 total tackles in the wins over Clifton-Clyde and Little River. He also had a 10-tackle game against St. Francis during the first meeting. For the season, Whalen leads the team in total tackles (67) and interceptions (6).
Speaking of the defense, Whalen and Gardner are joined at the top of the total tackles list on the team by Aron Castillo, and Kendrix Loy (four fumble recoveries for the season) joined both Whalen and Gardner with double-figure tackles against St. Francis in the initial meeting.
In that Oct. 11 contest, St. Francis jumped out early and pulled out the stops, including an onside kick that they recovered in the 1st Quarter. Their single-wing offense took care of the rest.
Wichita County had just 162 yards of offense in the setback and turned the ball over only once. This season, in fact, the Indians from Leoti have only turned the ball over six times, while forcing the opponents into 25 miscues.