By Nick Hampton
Haskell and Vian are two programs on different ends of the postseason spectrum, meeting together again as the two teams will face off at Vian on Friday in a Class 2A first-round playoff contest.
It’s not only reflected in their records — Haskell is 5-5, No. 3-ranked Vian is 10-0 and Haskell is coming in 5-5 after being 3-5 just two weeks ago, needing to win their final two games to get to this point.
“We’re still trying to learn how to win and expect to win. They’re a team that starts the year knowing they’re expected to play more than 10 games a season,” said Haskell head coach Greg Wilson, now finishing his third year at the helm of the Haymakers.
“Sure we’re happy to make the playoffs again. But it’s like I told the kids last Friday night, we’ve got to get to the point where making the playoffs is just expected of us,” said Wilson.
It is the second consecutive year in the postseason for Haskell. The first time was forgettable as the Wolverines hammered the Haymakers 78-8 en route to the 2A semifinals. That team was hit hard by graduation while Haskell has some of its core cast from last year back, including running backs Alex Wheeland (1007 yards/11 touchdowns) and Jordan Presley (573 yards/7 touchdowns). Wheeland, who started the year at quarterback but moved to running back when Presley was injured, has more or less taken on the lion’s share of a multi-pronged running back load while Brody Enkey has settled in as quarterback.
“Wheeland, Presley and (fullback Kanyon) Kelly are all great weapons for them,” said Vian head coach Brandon Tyler. “They are probably the most athletic team we’ve faced this year.”
Even with graduation hits, the Wolverines have their share of talent.
Rylee Simon stepped out of the shadow of his older brother and graduate Rowdy Simon, last year’s Phoenix Male Athlete of the Year, to anchor the middle of a Vian defense that’s giving up only 7.5 points per game.
Rylee has also taken over at quarterback this year (1,023 yards passing, 903 yards rushing with 19 touchdowns). When Simon’s not running or passing, running back Eric Casey (1,260 yards, 23 touchdowns) is destroying opposing defenses.
And while graduation took its toll on the offensive and defensive lines, Simon says the newcomers are doing just fine.
“We started the season with a lot of young guys, but they’ve steadily improved all season long,” said Simon. “I also think I’ve improved on offense this season, but there’s still more I can learn.”
Both coaches point to Vian’s 22-15 come-from-behind last minute win over Hartshorne this season as an example of their philosophies about winning.
That Hartshorne game is really a good example of the kind of confidence that consistent winning brings to a program,” said Wilson.
Tyler points to that game as a main difference between this year’s team and last year’s squad that lost to Davis, one step short of a championship game.
“That Hartshorne win was a big test for us in never quitting,” said Tyler. “Last year we were never really tested or had much adversity until that semifinal game.”
What happens when that adversity comes is what Wilson hopes his Haymakers are starting to understand as they return to the scene of that 70-point thrashing.
“Last year we started strong in the first two or three series. But then Vian hit us hard and we started second guessing ourselves,” said Wilson.
“Last year we just hoped for a turnover or big play to turn the tide. This year we hopefully understand that when adversity comes, we have to take matters in our own hands and make things change.”
The winner will move on against either Pawhuska or Salina.