In Ryan Cornelsen’s previous 11 seasons coaching football — five at Hays, six at La Crosse – he never faced the same team twice in a season.
That will end Friday when his Hutchinson (6-4) team plays at Derby (9-1) in the Class 6A quarterfinals.
“It’s a unique deal for me,” Cornelsen said. “It’s kind of strange.”
Derby beat Hutchinson 35-28 on Sept. 26.
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Bishop Carroll (10-0) also has a rematch in the Class 5A quarterfinals on Friday and will play host to Heights (8-2), which the Eagles beat 70-15 on Sept. 26.
The Sept. 26 game was a matchup of 5A’s No. 1 and No. 2-ranked teams.
It was an embarrassing and frustrating loss for Heights, but coach Terry Harrison refuses to lament the fact that his team is traveling to Carroll for the second time.
“I think on some level, we were both planning on playing twice this year,” Harrison said. “I don’t mind playing them again. If we’re going to win a state championship, which is our goal, we’ll have to play them and beat them anyway.”
In a rematch, there’s bound to be differences from the first meeting, which is why Cornelsen and Derby coach Brandon Clark said they’re not only watching the video from the Sept. 26 game but also in the weeks since.
“We’re doing things quite a bit different, and so are they,” Cornelsen said. “It’s a chess match. You’re not sure what you’re going to get.”
This is the part that Clark especially enjoys. He’s been in rematches before, playing Hutchinson in the 2012 semifinals and Heights in the 2009 and 2011 semifinals.
“It’s kind of fun to see what they do against you the first time and, usually, at least defensively, they try something new the second time,” Clark said. “You can always watch that film, but you have to prepare for what they’ve been showing the last few weeks.”
Hutchinson has quarterback Turner Wintz back from injury, but the Salthawks have been relying heavily on Blaik Middleton and the run. Wintz threw 14 times for 124 yards the first time Hutch and Derby played.
Middleton had 28 carries and five touchdowns in a first-round playoff win over Topeka.
Derby’s defense has changed since the first game against Hutchinson, with players moving positions. What hasn’t changed is that the Panthers still utilize Darreon Jackson as much as possible, though, including in special teams. He had an 86-yard punt return against East in the first round.
Carroll hasn’t changed much. The defense is still stifling; no opponent has scored on the Eagles’ starters. The offense centers around running back Denzel Goolsby, who has made a non-binding commitment to play at Kansas State, and quarterback Colton Howell.
Heights lost quarterback Garrett Haskins to a season-ending injury, so Trenton Autry, the Falcons’ leading rusher, has moved to quarterback. Rodney Murphy has stepped in and he has 704 rushing yards on 79 carries.
The key for Heights will be its offensive line giving the backs, including Tre King and Armond McCray, some time to get free.
“The last time we played, we’d go back and watch the film,” Harrison said. “After the ball was snapped, … we’d press pause two seconds in and our guys were on their guys. Press play, and real quick, our guys are off. Their defense is fast. They refuse to be blocked.”
Heights’ offensive line has improved, and it has gotten more physical. Harrison is sure that if the Falcons are going to be able to move the ball against Carroll, it will come down to the line.
“It’s fun to talk about schemes and offense and defense,” Harrison said. “Ultimately it comes down to the willingness to win, to block for a long time. Hopefully we show that we can do a much better job of that.
“… Even though that loss was humbling, I look forward to it. Hopefully we’ve improved enough that we can win.”