By CONOR NICHOLL email@example.com
Posted: October 18, 2012 - 11:32 PM
Last Friday, Atwood-Rawlins County defeated Quinter, 50-26, on the road in a key Eight-Man, Division I, District 8 contest. The win moved Atwood, in its first season of eight-man football, to 7-0 and 3-0 in district play. However, like many games for the Buffs this year, the program didn’t win by a large margin.
Quinter had two massive special teams errors that gave Atwood two short fields at the end of the first half. The Buffs’ defense gave up multiple big plays, including 168 rushing yards by Quinter backup running back Zach Mader. After the contest, third-year Atwood coach Deone Horinek met with his team at midfield. He was happy with the win, but made one point very clear: The team still had plenty to work on.
““If we wouldn’t have been able to score, we would have been in real big trouble tonight,” Horinek said.
Horinek, though, was also excited for tonight’s home matchup against Ness City, ranked No. 1 in Eight-Man, Division I at 7-0. Unlike Atwood, Ness City has rolled through its schedule. Ness City starts eight seniors, while Atwood doesn’t have a single senior on its roster.
“I am overjoyed,” Horinek said. “When you’ve got two 7-0 teams, how can you expect anything different. We do – and the kids know – that’s it’s going to be an uphill battle.”
Ness City has outscored opponents 360-48 under third-year coach Chris Bamberger and defeated every opponent by at least 30 points. Atwood and Ness City are 3-0 in the district, while Hoxie is 5-2, 2-1 in district with the only loss to Ness City. The Ness City/Atwood contest and next week’s Atwood/Hoxie game will determine the district’s two playoff berths.
“We have to be way more disciplined,” Atwood junior Michael Capo said. “We can’t bite on fakes on defense. On defense, we have to cross the face of the defensive line. We’ve just got to get it up and run hard because we have nothing to lose.”
Ness City went 8-2 last season in its second year of eight-man football. This year, the team is aware of its high ranking and expectations, but that’s not the main thought.
"(We focus) every week on improvement," Bamberger said. "If we improve from one week to the other, I think that's the biggest thing.”
The Eagles’ close-knit senior group includes senior running backs Garrett Flax and Dalton Gantz. Flax has rushed 90 times for 723 yards and eight scores, while Gantz has tacked on 85 carries for 659 and 14 TDs. Senior quarterback Koltyn Ratliff missed two games with an injury, but has played well as a game manager with 313 passing yards and a 7/2 TD/INT ratio.
"We've been playing sports forever with each other. When you start young, we all just kind of grow into each other and we know how we all play, and that helps once you get to high school," Ratliff said.
Senior Blake McVicker leads the team with 73 tackles, while Gantz has 49 tackles and Flax has tacked on 40. Ness City doesn’t have a very big offensive or defensive line, but is rarely out of position.
“They are so disciplined,” Quinter coach Greg Woolf said.
Atwood has beaten teams by a collective margin of 246-120 and won four games by scoring less than 31 points, a rarity in the eight-man ranks. Atwood’s scoring defense is near a championship level, but the offense has averaged 35.1 points per game.
“We have been up and have allowed teams to get back into the game,” Horinek said. “I think that killer instinct of just finishing games is what we are battling. We have got good kids, but we haven’t had a winning tradition in the past, so we are really trying to get them understand that when you are up, you’ve got to put it to them. There is no letdown.”
Of the 32 teams that reached the eight-man playoffs last year, only four teams averaged fewer points per game. Capo leads the team with 141 carries for 853 yards and 14 rushing TDs.