Maize South believed it was ready, the necessary work had been done, and the time was now to prove it belonged among the elite.
Salina South made Friday night a humbling experience for the Mavericks, showing them there is still another level they must attain during a 49-28 victory in frigid temperatures at Maize South. The loss in the Class 5A quarterfinals ends Maize South’s best postseason performance in the program’s 5-year history.
For the third straight season Salina South will play in a Class 5A semifinal, rekindling its rivalry with Bishop Carroll. This time the Cougars, 10-1, will host.
“They’re an experienced playoff team,” Maize South coach Brent Pfeifer said of Salina South. “They’ve been here before. They came in ready to play real physical football from the start, and we weren’t ready for them.”
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In all five seasons of its existence, Maize South has played in the playoffs. From three wins the first season to registering at least eight wins in the last three seasons, the Mavericks have taken the next step incrementally as a program.
Pfeifer had stocked the Mavericks defense with their best athletes this season. He accepted the offense would have its difficulties, but the one thing he could rely on was his defense. And it responded, keeping opponents to two touchdowns or fewer in six of 10 games prior to Friday.
On Friday, that constant crumbled.
“It’s tough when you’re just getting pounded like that,” Maize South senior linebacker Logan Mormando said. “We gave up a lot of big plays.”
“Our ‘D’ hasn’t got shoved on like that for awhile,” Pfeifer said. “We were out-matched.”
A healthy Eric McCullough, who returned after a nearly month-long injury, ignited a Cougars offense that was lackluster in their first playoff victory. Salina South made sure to give McCullough plenty of field to work with, as it shot him to the sidelines and let his speed gain the corner and make the play.
McCullough had 131 yards by halftime and would finish with 179, complete with two touchdowns.
After establishing that threat, Salina South won because quarterback Dalton Wassenberg delivered a near-flawless performance in directing the offense to more than 20 first downs and over 500 yards of offense, averaging better than seven yards per snap. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 226 yards and tacked on 61 yards rushing with four total touchdowns.
“None of our kids take this for granted, but it’s what they expect,” Salina South coach Sam Sellers said. “They know what these games are all about. They know it’s a long season and they need to pace themselves. They put in a great week of practice and then they obviously played great (Friday).”
Maize South fell behind early, 7-0 in the first three minutes, and never recovered. The defense came up one play short throughout the game, as Salina South converted crucial third or fourth downs time and again to rack up a 28-7 lead that it used to coast to victory.
“We just couldn’t stop them,” Maize South senior safety Kale Bulloch said.
After the loss, the seniors stuck around the field. They were numb, partly because of the cold, but also because they couldn’t believe it was over.
They believed they were ready, but they found out they were not. The underclassmen and coaches heaped praise on them afterward.
The seniors took something away from that, from taking Maize South, in its first season in 5A, further than any of its predecessors. The pain was lessened because they knew they were handing off to the next senior class, the next opportunity for the program to take one step further.
“There’s so much to be proud of here,” Bulloch said, surrounded by his team. “These are all of my friends. It’s not just one of them. It’s all 70 of them. I’m going to take my relationships with all of my friends and just keep going with them. This season may be over, but I know these guys can do it next year. I just hope the way we led them, they can maybe take some of that into next year.”
SS—Wassenberg 2 run (Avila-Castro kick)
SS—McCullough 2 run (Avila-Castro kick)
MS—Bruner 42 pass from Frausto (Galliher kick)
SS—Becker 54 pass from Wassenberg (Avila-Castro kick)
SS—McCullough 34 run (Avila-Castro kick)
MS—Bulloch 1 run (Galliher kick)
SS—Stegmaier 1 run (Avila-Castro kick)
SS—Marcotte 42 pass from Wassenberg (Avila-Castro kick)
SS—Becker 35 pass from Wassenberg (Avila-Castro kick)
MS—Bruner 62 pass from Frausto (Galliher kick)
MS—Bulloch 5 run (Galliher kick)
Rushing—Salina South, McCullough 25-179, Wassenberg 9-61, Stegmaier 9-49, Corona 9-14, Yarochowicz 1-(-3); Maize South, Bulloch 9-38, Frausto 10-35, Parke 3-16, Vicin 6-8, Fettke 1-6, Smith 1-4.
Passing—Salina South, Wassenberg 13-19-226-1; Maize South, Frausto 10-21-167-2.
Receiving—Salina South, Becker 4-109, Marcotte 3-58, Foster 1-24, Corona 2-14, Weir 2-12, Stegmaier 1-9; Maize South, Bruner 2-104, Koster 3-29, Parke 2-14, Bulloch 1-7, Veenis 1-7, Fettke 1-6.