The Dodge City High seniors were challenged three weeks ago to not let what should have been their highest point of their football lives go down in a sea of apathy.
The Red Demons responded with victories over Garden City and Manhattan and now find themselves in the sectional round of the Class 6A football playoffs at home against the Derby Panthers.
Dodge City head coach Dave Foster said that it's a matter of "desperate times call for desperate measures" that has resulted in the Red Demons making their own breaks and taking advantage of the other squads' miscues, like the six fumble recoveries against Manhattan.
"We challenged these players to play at a level that they had not been at all year but we as a staff felt as though they were capable of achieving," Foster said. "When any individual is willing to put themselves on the line risking failure, I think everyone else senses the courage and realizes that they are too capable."
Senior Parker Davis seems to have taken the challenge to heart. Davis hurt his knee in the loss to Wichita Heights and had been at 70-80 percent for most of the season after the injury. But since the Maize game where he scored six touchdowns but fumbled twice on two other possible scores, Davis has turned into the catalyst and leader Foster so desperately had been searching for earlier in the season.
Davis ran for 204 yards — 191 in the first half — to help the Demons get going against Manhattan. He also made a number of key tackles in both wins over the Indians and Garden City.
"No doubt Parker has re-emerged on the scene," Foster said. "I think he knew that his last chance was the Garden City game and he played extremely hard. His role in our offense is critical and everything will be built around his ability to gain positive yardage."
Quarterback Kelan Newton only completed nine of his 21 passes for 201 against Manhattan last week, but he was 4-of-6 and two of his touchdown passes after intermission. Foster said having to get used to a different style of field with a larger crown was something Newton was able to adjust to as the game went on.
"When standing on a crown of that magnitude, I assure you that the trajectory of balls is different from an elevated grass field crown than a flat artificial turf crown," Foster said. "(Kelan) is an accurate quarterback that doesn't really fluctuate much from game to game. I am confident with his ability to make good decisions and deliver accurate throws."
The Red Demons' defense also came up big with the forced fumbles and an interception on the night. Manhattan gained only 253 total yards on the night in the loss.
Page 2 of 2 - Derby is 9-1 on the season and coming off a 70-7 rout of Wichita North in another bi-district game.
The Panthers have four rushers that have more than 400 yards this season (Tyler West 670, Kellen Sims 610, Chandler Shantz 483 and Devin Peter 469). Shantz and Sims work a two-quarterback system and both have been effective: Shantz has thrown nine touchdown passes to go along with his 11 rushing; while Sims has five scoring tosses to go along with his 14 on the ground.
The Panthers' only loss has been to Hutchinson and Foster said the Demons are going to have to slow things down on defense like the Salthawks did to succeed.
"Hutchinson was able to slow down Derby's offense by playing fundamentally and responsibility sound football," Foster said. "We will have to do much of the same.
"Derby's preference and strength is in running the football. They are a proficient passing team, but would prefer to run. They will feature mostly one back, but (also) have two-back and empty sets as well."