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Game of the Week: Another story in the Knights, Cougars rivalry

Published on -10/4/2012, 11:43 AM

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At the Buzzer, Oct. 5



There's some debate concerning the history of the Victoria/Otis-Bison rivalry, especially in football.

"There is a huge rivalry between us," Victoria junior center/nose guard Nathan Kuhn said of the two Central Prairie League foes. "It goes back quite a ways, too."

However, Travis Starr, Otis-Bison's eighth-year coach, didn't consider Victoria/Otis-Bison a rivalry, or even a close matchup in his first few seasons.

From 2004-08, Victoria defeated Otis-Bison five straight times, including the last four by at least 28 points.

"They used to come in and beat the heck out of us year after year after year," Starr said.

However, that changed in Week 8 of the 2009 season, a contest that has flipped the matchup and helped move Otis-Bison/Victoria to arguably the best rivalry in northwest Kansas.

That year, Otis-Bison was the state's surprise and started 7-0 en route to a 10-1 season. Victoria also carried a perfect record into that game and finished 10-2. The Cougars won at Victoria, 72-26, and captured the district title.

"We never knew how good we were until we faced Victoria," Otis-Bison senior running back Dylan Wissman, the lone player remaining on both teams who played a significant role in that contest. "They were No. 1 in the state and we went in there and we beat them good. It was good for confidence. It definitely was. We knew we were good, but not everyone in the state (knew)."

From 2008-12, Otis-Bison is 35-5 with an Eight-Man Division II state runner-up showing in 2010.

Victoria, the state's most consistent eight-man program, has continued its run of 10 straight playoff berths. In the last four seasons, Victoria is 26-12. Last year, Otis-Bison won at Victoria, 26-6, in the second round of the postseason. While the area has other strong rivalries -- namely Logan/ Almena-Northern Valley, Smith Center/Norton, La Crosse/Ness City (basketball) and Smith Center/Phillipsburg (volleyball) -- Victoria/Otis-Bison currently trumps them all on three counts. First, Victoria and Otis-Bison are in the same classification. That can't be said for many area rivalries. Secondly, in addition to football, both squads have had recent success in boys' and girls' basketball. Last winter, both the boys' and girls' basketball teams met in sub-state championship games.

"We both want to beat each other all the time," Kuhn said.

On Friday, Otis-Bison, ranked No. 5 in Eight-Man, Division II at 4-1, 1-0 in District 7, plays host to Victoria (3-2, 1-0). Game time is 7 p.m.

"They beat us the last two times, so we are trying to step up and come back and beat them," Kuhn said.

Both sides have respect for each other. Victoria coach Doug Oberle and Starr talk often -- nearly every Saturday.

"It's great," Oberle said. "Coach Starr, where that program was when he got there to where it is now is tremendous. He has done a great job of getting kids out and he has got a lot of good talent. At the same time, he has got them to play. He gets them in the weight room. He is developing young kids. He is having kids step up each year. He is having kids on this year's team that have kind of came up a little bit from nowhere that are playing well."

Otis-Bison has considered itself a strong team for four years -- but doesn't think its in the class of Victoria. Starr and Wissman are impressed with Victoria's consistency.

"Their down years, they are still over .500 and they are still competing in every ball game," Starr added. "You don't get that many times in eight-man football. There is a roller-coaster. You are either up or you are down, but they've maintained a high level forever."

"It's always fun to go up and beat them," Wissman added. "One day you want to be in that elite class like they are."

This year, Victoria struggled early, especially in a Week 2 loss to St. John. Senior running back/linebacker Dalton Dreiling suffered a knee injury midway through a Week 1 win against Macksville and hasn't played since. He won't play Friday but is progressing and could play again this year. The Knights gave Ness City, ranked No. 1 in Eight-Man Division I, its closest game of the season in Week 3, and then handily beat two solid teams in Central Plains and Sylvan-Lucas. Junior quarterback Sam Ottley has played well, including 201 rushing yards and six TDs accounted for last week. He has 883 total yards and 15 TDs accounted for this year.

"We are playing better," Oberle said. "The Sylvan Grove game was our best overall game. We had spots in the Central Plains game where we played really well and spots that we didn't. I thought last week at practice, we just really had a good week of practice. We were able to work on some things. I think kids got some things. I think too you are seeing a growth and maturation period in Sam at quarterback."

Otis-Bison, with just three returning starters, has little depth because of few boys in the sophomore and junior classes. At many positions, a freshman backs up a senior. Also, Otis-Bison has dealt with injuries (though everyone should be healthy for Friday) and inconsistencies, especially on defense. In addition, the Cougars have played a tougher early season schedule than the last few years. Otis-Bison lost to a quality Hoxie team, 56-22, in Week 3 and has no wins by the 45-point rule. From 2008-10, the Cougars had 25 victories by the 45-point rule.

"We are still pretty good," senior lineman Sam Higgason said. "The teams are just getting better around the state."

One key matchup is Kuhn and Higgason, veterans at nose guard and center.

Higgason, already offered a scholarship from Garden City Community College, has 31 tackles and three sacks despite playing some knee problems. A starting defensive end last season, Higgason moved inside this year. He is in his second year as the starting center.

Like Kuhn, Higgason's main job defensively is to play both 'A' gaps on either side of the center.

"Thought I would have trouble seeing which side the leverage was coming on," Higgason said. "After practicing through the summer and 2-a-days, it's come pretty easy to me. Told to watch feet or feel which side, not to watch the fakes in the backfield."

The 5-foot-6, 195-pound Kuhn gives up plenty of size to the 5-10, 250-pound Higgason. However, Kuhn has played center since federated football and has learned to use leverage from his older brother, Dylan, a similar-sized lineman who earned all-state honors for the Knights. Nathan Kuhn has 27 tackles and five tackles for loss this year.

"Even at home, he taught me different stuff, how to get lower steps, and we did some workouts together," Kuhn said. "... I like (center) because you get to see how you compare against the 1-on-1 situation."

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