For the second time this season, the Ashland Bluejays will face the Pawnee Heights Tigers in a matchup of two strong 6-Man football teams.
This time, it’ll be in the third-place game of the State Playoffs. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. in Dodge City’s Memorial Stadium.
Recognition of game sponsors and All-State Teams is scheduled to follow, culminating with the Non-KSHSAA sanctioned 6-Man State Championship Game between Weskan and Golden Plains.
The Pawnee Heights Tigers entered the season the defending 6-Man State Champions after beating Cheylin 62-12 in last year’s finale.
Saturday’s game, however, pits the Tigers in a rematch against the Ashland Bluejays, who gave the Tigers their only regular-season loss, by a score of 67-21 back on Sept. 21.
Knocking off the defending champs is hard no matter what the sport, but the Bluejays were able to do it in their first year in 6-Man football.
The team had played in 8-Man Div. II dating back to at least 2008, according to records on KPreps.com.
Few teams set a goal of playing for third at the end of the season, but Saturday’s game happens to fit what the team wanted to achieve, even if it won’t quite be what at one point appeared possible for the Bluejays, according to head coach Ben Fox.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to get to Dodge on this last Saturday,” Fox said. “Obviously like you said we would have liked that to be the later game, and kind of as the year went on we kind of got more hopeful and more hopeful that it was going to be that Championship Game, but looking at the playoff picture, I kind of got concerned.”
The Bluejays faced Golden Plains last week, losing 71-46 after a first-round BYE, but Golden Plains beat a tough Moscow team before proving too much for the Bluejays.
“I’ve been kind of re-watching (that game) all day to kind of to see what we needed to work on today at practice, and we actually played a pretty solid game besides a couple turnovers and dropped passes,” Fox said this week. “They’re a solid team. If I can say we played solid and lost then that tells you they’re a dang-good team.”
Regardless of if the Bluejays had won last week, Pawnee Heights and Weskan were both opponents Fox said the Bluejays knew would be tough.
Last week’s loss was a heartbreaker for the team, who played their hearts out Fox said, and have achieved the top-four finish they hoped to achieve.
This year’s result, regardless of a win or loss Saturday, could help the team continue to build on the success it has had this season.
Last year, the Ashland started 0-8 and were shutout five times. In the end, however, the Bluejays were able to knock off Chase by a score of 56-26, ending the season with a win.
That win came in part because of some desperation the team felt to get one that season, Fox said. The Bluejays are approaching Saturday’s game similarly, though the desperation for a single win won’t necessarily have the same weight it did last year when it perhaps appeared they might finish without one.
“(It’s) obviously different in that aspect this year, but I think that last game last year really carried over a lot of momentum, as far apart as it is (from the start of the next season),” Fox said. “It showed the boys what they can do if they put a complete game together and it really set into the summer and the offseason and summer camps and stuff like that, and it kept the excitement high, for football at least, to get that last game last year.”
Usually teams don’t get a third or fourth-place game, Fox said.
“We’re fortunate that we get this game, and we’re going to try to use it as a pushing-off for next year,” Fox said. “That’s kind of how we’re going about it. We know Pawnee Heights is going to be hungry for us again. We played solid at the beginning of the year and they’ve still got playmakers that can score kind of anytime, so it’s concerning. We’re not overlooking it, but we are going to use it as a pushing-off point for next year.”