Derby and Bishop Carroll, two of the area’s powerhouse high school football programs, are set to meet for the first time on Friday when the No. 1-ranked Panthers (4-0) travel to Carroll (3-1), ranked No. 5 in Class 5A.
For now, the agreement is for a return trip to Derby next season for Carroll. But if the coaches have their way, this rivalry is only getting started.
“Hopefully it can be one of those games that the area loves so much that we can’t let it go,” Derby coach Brandon Clark said.
When the football scheduling meeting happened last October, Clark had already planted the idea that the two sides should find a way to meet for the first time. When it was apparent Carroll would have an opening in its schedule, the two sides agreed to play each other in Week 5.
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Derby is in search of its third 6A championship in four years, while Carroll has played for three 5A titles in the last four years. The programs are a combined 115-12 during that period.
“I think this is great for high school football, not just for the Wichita area but for the state of Kansas,” Carroll coach Alan Schuckman said. “You’re talking about two programs that have been in multiple state championships in the last five years. Neither team really has anything to lose (Friday) night. It’s a win-win.”
In the new district system in 6A and 5A, which counts the first eight games to make playoff brackets, a single loss could end up sending a highly-ranked team like Derby or Carroll on the road in the semifinals or even quarterfinals of the playoffs.
That’s a risk the two coaches are willing to take.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of teams out there that would want to play Carroll for the potential loss,” Clark said. “But it gets your team ready for the playoffs. If you want to be a good team, you have to be able to beat good teams.”
Schuckman gave the example of when Hutchinson, a 6-time state champion at the time, dropped down to Class 5A and in Carroll’s district.
“I really believe our program went to another level because we had to,” Schuckman said. “We knew if we wanted to win state, we’re going to have go through Hutch. I really believe that’s how you build a quality program by getting quality teams on your schedule. I think that upgrades your program.”
The matchup can be good for more than just the teams.
“I think it’s good for the area to have games like this,” Clark said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of people there and Carroll is obviously going to have a lot of fans there, and hopefully there will be fans of just good football that show up too. I think it will be a really great atmosphere, which should make for a really good game.”
“It’s great to get another program that’s recognized as one of the best in the state,” Carroll athletic director Larry Dostert said. “As far as the two schools go, we haven’t played them before so it’s not much of a rivalry yet, other than it’s just two very good programs.”
For Carroll, a potential loss would give the Eagles their second loss at the earliest point in a season since 2010. The Eagles also have Heights, 5A’s top-ranked team, remaining on the schedule.
There are eight teams with 4-0 or 3-1 records in the western side of 5A.
“I don’t feel any pressure, I just feel excitement,” Schuckman said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the state for a reason. But we’ve been in big games. We’ve been on this stage before and we’re used to it. We’re going to have to give it our best shot and we can’t make mistakes. If you play a lesser opponent and you make mistakes and still win by five or six touchdowns, I don’t think the kids understand the importance of doing things the right way all the time. I think they’ll understand after (Friday) what mistakes will do to you against a top-notch team.”
Clark echoed the sentiment and added he won’t be concerned if Derby’s 14-game winning streak comes to an end on Friday because he knows his team will be better regardless of the outcome.
“If we do lose a game like this, it’s going to be very powerful in the film room,” Clark said. “That’s not our plan to lose this game, but even if we win, there’s going to be a lot of mistakes made because Bishop Carroll is so good and they’re going to force us into those mistakes.”