Game of the Week: La Crosse on to the next round
By CONOR NICHOLL
La CROSSE -- One of La Crosse High School football team's mantras is "next man up." Throughout the entire season, the Leopards have played without senior Clayton Basgall, expected to start at quarterback and defensive back. On Friday, sophomore lineman Sheldon Schmidt, the team's leader in sacks and the starting kicker, couldn't play because of a hip injury.
In the second half, senior running backs Kip Keeley and Levi Morss -- arguably Kansas' best backfield tandem -- went down with cramps and an ankle injury, respectively. Still, La Crosse delivered a 20-8 home victory against Oakley in the second round of the Class 2-1A state playoffs.
"Our kids take a lot of pride in when one guy goes out, the next guy in is going to be ready to play and play his butt off, and we are not going to miss a beat because we have a sub in," fourth-year coach Jon Webster said.
La Crosse moved to 11-0, while Oakley finished the season at 7-3.
"Very proud," Oakley coach Randall Rath said. "Great kids. Super character kids, morals, good work ethic, real proud of them."
The Leopards will travel to Meade (10-1) for the third straight year in the playoffs in the sub-state contest Friday.
"It's not a two-man show out there," Keeley said. "Great team effort tonight."
Schmidt could return for the contest, while Keeley and Morss are expected to be healthy. Sophomore Jack Garcia, who has played well in relief of Basgall all season, finished 9 of 13 passing for 115 yards. Defensively, he picked off one of the team's four passes and had a tackle for loss.
Keeley has had cramping problems for a long time, but never like Friday. Multiple times Keeley fell down and had trouble getting back up after the cramps. Keeley said the cramps come from a variety of factors, including not having enough water and potassium. Keeley is taking a creatine supplement and needs to have more fluids. After the game, Keeley said his calves, mainly his right one, were still hurting.
Still, without Keeley and Morss late, junior Cody Lee stepped in for Keeley at punter and delivered a 47-yard punt that pinned Oakley deep in its own territory. Then, senior Derrick Depperschmidt -- who hadn't carried the ball in the postseason -- earned a key first down to ice the game.
"I told the kids in the locker room before the game, there is going to be somebody who we are not expecting to make a play, to make a play," Webster said. "You could pick a whole handful of kids."
The two squads each ranked in the top 10 in the classification in scoring defense entering the contest. La Crosse started slowly and Oakley had the first scoring opportunity.
On fourth down from the La Crosse six-yard line, Oakley ran a drag pattern.
Keeley broke through and pressured Plainsmen senior quarterback Darius Herl. La Crosse junior Lucas Moeder picked off Herl's pass in the end zone with 2 minutes, 20 seconds left in the first quarter.
"We had an opportunity there to make a play and their kids made the play and I think you've got to take your hats off to them there," Rath said.
Morss, who finished with a game-high 119 yards on 17 carries, delivered the game's first score on a 40-yard run down the right sideline when he broke several tackles.
"He just put his head down and ran right through them," Keeley said. "That's not a play that a typical kid can make and he just ran through them like it was absolutely nothing and he kept his feet and put his hand on the ground to keep his balance. Typical Levi play."
The score gave La Crosse a 6-0 lead at halftime.
"Before the play, I told my guys, 'Let's punch this one in, let's go' and I wasn't stopping and neither was my team," Morss said.
After the break, the Leopards tacked on two scores on a 1-yard run from Keeley with 8:50 left in the third quarter, and a 3-yard run from Morss with 8:12 remaining in the contest. On Keeley's score, La Crosse fumbled the handoff, but Keeley fell on the ball in the end zone. Oakley junior fullback Oscar Macias scored the Plainsmen's lone TD on a 34-yard run late.
"We talk about it at halftime, we did all of the hooping and hollering and everything that makes you appear to be intense," Webster said. "I said, 'You can jump around all you want, but you can't fake it on the field.' I thought we did a better job in the second half of being focused and playing hard and playing as a team."