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Game of the week - St. Francis with a shortened schedule

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

In the short term, the St. Francis High School football team is 2-3, 0-2 in Class 2-1A, District 7. The Indians have suffered multiple injuries and have players at different positions they have never played before to make everything work.

"We have had some good performances, and we are still looking for that game where we play four good quarters of ball," second-year coach Kyle Buffington said. "It's been all right, but at the same time, there has been a little bit of disappointment."

The Indians started 2-1, had a Week 4 bye, then suffered big losses, 35-0 and 56-0, to Oberlin and Oakley the last two weeks. St. Francis will travel to Ellis (2-4, 1-0) on Friday for a 7 p.m. start.

"They kind of remind me of what we are doing," Ellis coach Butch Hayes said. "They will look really good and drive down the field and get all the way down. Oberlin, they opened the drive up, they went all the way down the field and then they stalled and had a couple of good defensive possessions and then maybe a turnover and then the floodgates opened on them."

In the long term, St. Francis' future is stable and scheduling is not the same issue it's been for years. The Indians, long one of Kansas' smallest 11-man schools, will play eight-man next year for the first time. It's a decision in the works for a long time; Buffington was aware of the possible change before he took the job. The Indians have 25 to 30 kids playing football. With the injuries, St. Francis is having to play freshmen and sophomores at a lot of spots.

"We are very well aware that it's the right move for us," Buffington said. "We need to be making that move."

St. Francis will play Eight-Man Division I, but is just four students from Division II.

St. Francis had eight contests last fall and seven games this season after Wray, Colo. cancelled for Week 4. The Indians, near the Colorado and Nebraska borders, are the state's lone team with seven games.

"Our Week 4 bye was extremely hurtful for us," Buffington said. "We got out of that rhythm of having a game."

Now, St. Francis already has set their schedule for next season with nine Kansas schools. Buffington, a 2004 St. Francis graduate, can't recall the last time St. Francis played all Kansas teams. He played some out-of-state schools in his time, including long trips into Colorado.

"Eight-man is still football," Buffington said. "It's still a great game. It's just the way it is with numbers. I think it is going to be a good fit for us. We have great talent right now. If we get everybody healthy, I feel we can be fairly successful."

Junior Shakota Blanka is the Indians' biggest player at 6-0, 280-pounds, but will miss the rest of season after he suffered a cracked pelvis in practice on a hit. Blanka had enjoyed a strong year. He doesn't start on defense. Because of low numbers, he was playing scout team fullback and was hurt after a hit and pileup and is out for at least eight weeks.

Senior lineman Gaten Cooper (knee) is out, too. Currently, the backup fullback is playing right tackle. Senior running back Wyatt Landenburger has two bad ankles. Senior Derek Queen, the team's leading rusher, is still fairly healthy. He has one bad ankle, but he is still playing. Sophomore Garrett Brunk, the leading tackler, suffered a concussion last week.

Landenburger and Brunk are both questionable, but Landenburger is more unlikely. Sophomore quarterback Clay Cassaw, a returning starter, has played well and is healthy.

"We are extremely young and those guys are stepping in and doing what they can," Buffington said. "We were kind of getting outhorsed just because of our low numbers."