West Elk looks to wrap up district title with win at Marmaton Valley

MORAN — Plenty is on the line for West Elk and Marmaton Valley as they do battle in a pivotal Eight Man I-District 1 matchup Friday night.

The visiting Patriots will try to wrap up the district championship with a win, while the hometown Wildcats will try to keep their postseason hopes alive with an upset.

“This is obviously a huge game against a very quality opponent,” said coach Chris Haag, whose squad is looking for a postseason berth for the eighth time during his 17-year tenure at WEHS. “It’s basically do-or-die time for them, so we know we’re going to get their best shot. We are now in control of our own destiny. If we want to make a trip to the playoffs, we need to play well, be disciplined and play to the level we’re capable of.”

The Patriots — 3-0 in district play — remained perfect on the season at 7-0 overall with a 48-8 home win over rival Sedan last Friday at Pat Simmons Stadium in Howard. West Elk was able to avoid a letdown after capturing a 36-22 victory at St. Paul one week earlier in a battle of unbeatens.

“I was definitely concerned after out big win last week at St. Paul how we would respond,” Haag said. “We definitely didn’t respond well in that first half. We had key turnovers in the red zone that just killed us. I was impressed with our defense because that’s what kept us in the game. We were able to come out in that third quarter to take charge of the ball game. It ended pretty well for us. We didn’t play our best, but we were able to come out of it with the W.”

In that contest, West Elk struggled in the first half with three turnovers — including a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown by Sedan just before halftime — as it led 10-8 at the intermission. WEHS took control of action after the break with 38 unanswered points and held the Blue Devils to just two net yards in the final two quarters.

Although the Patriots have a chance to lock up the district championship on Friday, the game may be a little more important to Marmaton Valley as it tries to keep its postseason hopes alive with a win. The Wildcats — seeking their first playoff berth since 2012 — are 5-2 overall and 2-1 in district action following a 74-26 home loss to St. Paul last Friday.

“I think the boys will be ready to play,” said MVHS coach Gavin Cole. “We have a good group of seniors who lead us, and they will be playing with a great sense of urgency knowing that we have to win to have a chance at making the playoffs. I have confidence that my team will bounce back and play with the same heart and desire that we normally do. It’s expected no matter what the circumstances are.”

For one half of football last week, Marmaton Valley appeared to be the better team against St. Paul, jumping out to a 20-8 lead. Yet, the Indians scored the game’s final 50 points as the Wildcats watched their three-game win streak come to an end.

“We were obviously disappointed in our performance against St. Paul,” Cole said. “We got off to a good start and led 20-8, but from that point on we really struggled. I thought we were still able to move the ball fairly well on the ground but couldn’t get much going passing the ball. On the defensive side of the ball, we played our worst game of the season, and credit to St. Paul because they have some good athletes and a lot of team speed which make them very tough to stop. But even with that, we didn’t tackle well, took poor angles, and our pass defense wasn’t good.”

Both coaches have plenty of respect for their opponent heading into Friday’s contest.

“They have good athletic backs and are well-coached,” Haag said. “They are fundamentally sound and have good team speed. We’ve got to be ready. We’re going to put our men in the best position we can to be successful.”

“We watched plenty of film on them and should have a good idea of what they want to do,” Cole said. “Obviously if you want to stop them, then you have to stop the (Cade) Miller kid. He’s a great player, and if you don’t control him then you won’t stop West elk. They are pretty balanced offensively, so our pass defense needs to improve and play better this week.”

A year ago, West Elk captured a 44-12 victory over Marmaton Valley in Howard.

(Photo credit to Lynne Miller)