By Blake Spurney
Hesston Record Staff
WICHITA — Head coach Clint Rider told his players, many of whom were in tears, how proud he was of them because they didn't quit fighting for the entire game.
Wichita Collegiate ended the Hesston's season at 10-1 with a 61-35 victory. the way the Swathers captured the Central Kansas League East title, a district championship and won 10 games for the first time since 2007.
"It was a tough team, just really athletic," said senior linebacker Keith Wages. "We worked hard. We gave it our all."
"It hurts so much because you give it your all," said an emotional Jonathan Weber.
Despite the heartbreak, Weber said he had fun competing on the gridiron.
"I love football," the junior said. "Coach says play every play like it's your last play."
Hesston's defense could find no way to slow down Jaques Williams. The defending 100-meter dash winner in Class 3A rushed for 163 yards on just 19 carries, an average on nearly nine yards per carry.
"He's a game changer for sure," Rider said. "Now we know what it was like for other teams with Ryan (Schadler) last year."
Turnovers killed any chance of Hesston overcoming an early deficit. Williams returned the opening kickoff to the Spartans' 46. Collegiate scored six plays later on a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Austin Waddell.
That hole got deeper on Hesston's second play from scrimmage when Williams returned an interception 26 yards for another score.
The Swathers answered with 76-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown from quarterback Grant Raleigh to tight end Brad Simpson. Collegiate retaliated with a 3-yard touchdown run by Williams that capped a seven-play, 57-yard drive. Justin Smith blocked the extra-point attempt, which was second blocked PAT on the season.
Hesston stalled on its own 28 and was facing fourth-and-14 when Raleigh executed a fake punt to Scott Duerksen for a first down.
"That was all Grant," Rider said. "We had no idea that was going to happen."
Rider said he turned around as Raleigh called an audible after deciding that Duerksen would get open on the play. Punter Garrett Roth helped sell the play by pretending the snap went over his head. asked assistant coach Phil Unruh if he called for the fake punt, and Unruh said he didn't call it. Raleigh ended the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run after he sat out the required one play when his helmet came off two plays earlier.
Hesston trailed 27-14 with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining until halftime. The Spartans stuck a dagger in Hesston's hopes with a quick strike on a short field with 11 seconds left. Thus, the Swathers trailed 33-14.
They appeared primed to make the game interesting early in the third quarter when Raleigh connected with Cole Rostetter for a 76-yard touchdown reception. Rostetter ran a curl rote and caught the ball in full stride, just out of reach of a Spartan defender. He galloped in the final 55 yards. It was Hesston’s longest play during the season.
On the next series, Hesston then stopped Collegiate's starters for the first and only time on the night. Raleigh intercepted a Waddell pass that went through Zach Esau's hands and bounced off his helmet. Just like that, the Swathers had the chance to pull within a single score.
On the very next play, however, Jack Larsen scored on a 53-yard interception return.
Rider said he was thinking that Hesston had a chance while Rostetter ran down the field.
“It was kind of a short-lived thing,” he said. “Our guys didn’t stop fighting the entire game.”
Hesston's subsequent drive also ended with an interception at Hesston’s 46. Williams finished the short drive with a 29-yard touchdown.
The most impressive part about Hesston’s ability to stay in the game was that it was doing it with a much thinner playbook than what had been available all season. Collin Martin suffered a concussion in the first quarter, which effectively left the Swathers without a running back the rest of the game. Rider said the offense had to create a new personnel group it never had run before. Alexis Ramirez was brought in as a fullback, but the offense lost one of its most effective weapons: zone reads and inverted veer. No running back meant that Raleigh couldn’t run the play action with Daniel Fulghum (out with broken foot) or Martin.
Hesston scored its final touchdown on a 75-yard completion from Raleigh to Esau with a little more than 2 minutes remaining. Both Esau (130) and Rostetter (119) eclipsed 100 yards receiving.
Rider was asked if the team met his expectations on the season.
“Yeah, I think if you would have told me last November that we would go 10-1, I think I definitely would have jumped at that,” he said.
Hesston got a tough draw in the bracket. Halstead, which lost 42-14 to the Swathers on Sept. 12, plays Friday at Minneapolis. Collegiate plays at Scott Community.