The Dodge City Red Demons take on the Derby Panthers Friday in the second round of the 6A State Playoffs, just a year after meeting the Panthers in the opening round of the same.
Last year’s game didn’t go so well.
The Red Demons were outgained 479-291, including 141-80 through the air and 338-211 on the ground in a 49-13 loss.
All seven touchdowns the Panthers scored in that game were on the ground, three by Brody Koser, one by Tre Washington, and three by Hunter Igo.
This season, however, the Red Demons hope things will be different. The Red Demons have improved defensively against the run this season, having allowed about 168 yards per game on the ground compared to the 256 per game they allowed last year.
They also have allowed opponents to get nearly half the touchdowns they got last year. The Red Demons allowed only 17 touchdowns on the ground this season after allowing 32 last season (including the seven Derby scored).
The Red Demon ground game has also been significantly more running-back oriented. Last year, senior quarterback Dawson Williams and then-sophomore quarterback Beau Foster were the team’s two leading rushers. This season, senior running back Jaiel Johnson has rushed the ball more than anyone else.
Foster is still the team’s second-leading rusher, but Johnson has 159 carries, and after averaging about 30 yards per game last year and having two touchdowns, Johnson is averaging 100 yards per game this year and has eight touchdowns.
Junior wide receiver John Johnson has also been much improved this season statistically, averaging 43 yards per game after averaging 34 per game last year. Junior De Jon Delgado has also played well, pulling in three receiving touchdowns with at least one game left to go this season after catching only two last year.
Sophomore Matt Friess Jr. has been a pleasant surprise for Red Demons fans, recording 225 yards receiving this year and catching two touchdowns.
As for Derby, Hunter Igo is back for the Panthers, and threw four touchdown passes last week in a 41-7 win against Lawrence. Two of those were to junior wide receiver Jacob Karsak, according to the Derby Informer.
Igo went 10-13 for 177 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.
Still, if Dodge City wants to have a chance against Derby Friday, the Red Demons will almost certainly have to do something no other team has done this season with any success against the Panthers: Run the football.
According to the Derby Informer, no team has run for more than 98 yards against the Derby defense this season. Maize, which went 7-1 in the regular season with a lone loss coming against the Panthers, was the only team to run over 50 yards, getting 98 on the ground. Nobody has rushed for even 100 yards.
Garden City ran for 45 early in the season.Last week, in the opening round of the playoffs, Lawrence ran for just six.
That could make Friday’s game a long one for the Red Demons.
It also probably means Dodge City, which has won its last four games in large part because it has kept better control of the ball, will desperately, desperately need to be ball-secure in this game. Last week, Derby turned the ball over five times, but also got two interceptions, one of which they returned for a touchdown.
This is a Derby defense that will force you to throw, and make the most of any mistake you make after they’ve done so.
And while Dodge City has made fewer mistakes lately, the team already has 17 turnovers, three more than the team had through the nine games it played last season.
That makes Friday’s game against No. 1 Derby even more dangerous than it already was.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. inside Panther Stadium in Derby, Kansas.
Admission is $6 for adults and $5 for students. The game can be streamed live at dchsports.com, or heard on the radio on Z98 FM.