If Derby was removed from Maize’s regular-season schedule, the Eagles would have wrapped up a second straight undefeated regular season on Thursday night in Salina.
Maize has lost four regular-season games in the past four years. Three have come against Derby and one to Hutchinson. Take those Class 6A teams out, and Maize hasn’t lost before the postseason since 2015 when the Eagles went 1-8.
They beat 5A power Salina Central 26-8 on the road on Thursday.
Since that one-win season, Maize has gone 33-7. The Eagles have lost dozens, if not hundreds of seniors. It hasn’t mattered. The 2019 seniors will go down as the most successful class in Maize history.
“Last year we were saying the same thing,” Maize’s Gary Guzman said. “The year before, we were saying the same thing. When we graduate a lot of players, people say, ‘OK, they’re done.’ Each year, each group has stepped up.”
It almost mattered Thursday night though. After Maize’s third drive and second without points, one player came off the field and asked a jarring question up 3-0.
“Why are we sucking?” he said.
Maize senior running back Caden Cox said the Eagles hadn’t faced any adversity ahead of Thursday night. They had beaten their opponents by an average of 34.3 points per game through the first six weeks.
In Week 5, Maize welcomed Goddard, last year’s Class 4A runner-up. Goddard starting quarterback Kyler Semrad tore his lateral meniscus and MCL on the Lions’ second drive.
Maize won 42-0.
In Week 3, Maize hosted Campus. It was the Varsity Kansas Game of the Week last year. But after Campus graduated its best senior class in school history, Maize won 49-12.
Thursday, Maize went into halftime with a 3-0 lead. Cox had 4 rushing yards on eight carries. Nothing was working. The only good news was nothing was working for Salina Central either.
“We needed this,” Guzman said. “Offensively, there was some frustration going on in the first half because things weren’t happening as easily as they had been.”
The Maize defense pitched five straight shutouts last season to open the year. The Eagles were regarded as the best defense in Class 5A. This season, they have been just as good.
Maize allowed the most points of the season in Week 2 against Hutchinson. They still won 55-14.
Salina Central entered Thursday on a four-game win streak. It hadn’t scored fewer than 30 points since Week 3. Outside of a garbage-time touchdown with a couple of minutes left, the Eagles shut out one of the most physical teams in Kansas.
“We were shocked,” Cox said. “We weren’t ready for that level of play. ... We went into the locker room at halftime, changed some things and got our minds right. We said, ‘We’re just gonna pound ‘em.’ I’m proud of our guys. I’m very proud of our defense on how they held it together. They were the reason we were still in this game.”
Maize now turns its sights to Derby, the undisputed best team in the Wichita area and perhaps all of Kansas and the only team to beat Maize in the regular season in the past two years.
As recently as 2017, Derby was beating Maize by scores of 60-28, 52-7 and 42-20. But last year was different.
With four seniors on the offensive line and a top 11 quarterback in Caleb Grill, Maize was one missed gap away from a one-score game against the eventual Class 6A champion. Final score: 35-21, Derby.
The Eagles are ready for another chance.
“Derby is Derby,” junior linebacker Kendall Norrod said. “There is no comparing them to anyone out there. Derby is Derby. That was the moment last year, and it’s coming again real quick.”