By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Finally, Vian got a test in the second half last week.
But not quite four quarters’ worth.
The Wolverines led Kansas 35-26 going to the locker room, then proceeded to bloody their nose with 41 points in the first nine minutes of the third quarter before coasting to the 76-26 win. The team that averaged 62 points in the regular season has averaged 77 in two playoff games, including a 78-8 win over Haskell in the first round.
So the starters still haven’t played in the fourth quarter this season.
“I think we’ll see that change Friday night,” Vian coach Brandon Tyler said this week.
The top-ranked team in the Class 2A rankings according to the final regular season Associated Press poll, the Wolverines (12-0) get a quarterfinal rematch with two-time state champion and third-ranked Hennessey. The Eagles handed Vian an 18-7 loss last year. It’s been the only setback for Vian in the last 25 contests, dating back to a first-round playoff exit at home against Morris in 2010. The closest margin in that span of wins was a 17-point win against Lincoln Christian in 2011.
Vian took three plays to score on its first possession of the second half a week ago and also added one off a blocked punt. A second blocked punt for a touchdown was nullified by penalty.
It was a short-but-effective statement that this team won’t be hurt by the lack of a full four quarters.
“All along I’ve never doubted we would respond when we needed to,” Tyler said.
And they’ve used this week to get a grip on the problems that made them play a second half last week.
“They beat us on the deep ball but we were outmanned on the side they were going to with their quad look,” said linebacker Rowdy Simon. “So we widened our (line)backers, me and (Tre) Locust and it helped us on the bubble and short stuff where the safeties could focus on the deep stuff. And we were a lot more physical on the back end the second half.”
Simon wasn’t even a significant part of the third-quarter offense for Vian. He most of his 322 yards in the first half on 17 carries.
Hennessey coach Rick Luetjen, who directed the Stigler program from 2004-06 is in his first season as the Eagles head coach after having served on the staff in their previous two championship seasons. He lost once to Vian, 49-0 in 2006, in the time he was at Stigler.
“We figured next year, third round we’d be back at their place,” he said about their assessment after last year’s contest. “Brandon does a great job and they’re tough to beat down there.”
The Eagles (10-2) average 39 points a game while giving up 13 in a considerably more rugged schedule that includes losses of 35-0 against Jones and 21-20 against Kingfisher — both still in the 3A playoffs. Last week, the Eagles beat Washington 56-21, surviving a fumble recovery that put them in a 7-0 hole.
While Vian’s schedule doesn’t compare, what the Wolverines have done is remarkable enough. Their 778 points have surpassed Guthrie’s 764 points in 2007 for most in a season statewide. The national record for a 15-game season is Refugio, Texas, with 891 points in 2011. The Wolverines would need to score 37 points per game — and make it to the 2A final — to chase that one down.
The 13-game season record is 804 set by Maxton, N.C., in 1975.
“It’s been kind of a crazy, weird thing but it’s all for naught if we’re not playing in three weeks,” Tyler said.
Just for the sake of it, the all-time record in any number of games is 903 in 16 games by Albemarle, N.C., in 2001. Should they make the finals, they could be playing Frederick, which is just 16 points behind them for the season.
The bulk of Luetjen’s team’s returning experience is up front, but his skill set includes running back Levi Hill who has rushed for 1,791 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Dylan Hatchel, a junior and first-year starter, has thrown for 1,342 yards, completing 102 of 165 attempts. The Eagles will likely miss Car Aguirre, a returning starter at defensive end and one of the defensive leaders in sacks with seven. He is believed to have torn an ACL in last week’s game. Luetjen said Aguirre was still undergoing evaluation as of Tuesday.
“They have more of the same personnel as last year but we feel like our kids have grown up in this system and understand it,” he said.
And have no problem with being the hunted, he said.
“There’s to be said about the experience you get out of it as kids. When we won our second one it was a greater achievement than the first one and a third would probably be better,” he said.
“From a coaching standpoint you always want to be the underdog. But heck, I don’t know who the underdog is in this one.”
The winner will meet either Davis or Adair in the semifinals.