In preparation for the highly-anticipated showdown between two of the best teams in Kansas, Wichita Northwest coach Steve Martin designed a game plan around being balanced against Kapaun Mt. Carmel.
By the early third quarter of Friday’s game, with the Grizzlies trailing by two touchdowns, Martin regretted not sticking with his typical run-heavy attack.
“I didn’t do a great job, but my kids bailed me out,” Martin said. “In the second half, we got back to what we do and that’s run the ball and control the line of scrimmage.”
Northwest, ranked No. 2 in Class 6A, scored five rushing touchdowns in the second half to rally for a 42-35 win over Kapaun, ranked No. 2 in Class 5A, at Scheels Stryker Sports Complex.
Not only did the Grizzlies maintain their unblemished record, they also seized control of the City League championship race with victories over Bishop Carroll and Kapaun in the first three weeks of the season.
“It felt like Kapaun had the upper hand on us in the first half and they were the more physical team,” Northwest running back Cencere Thompson said. “We talked at halftime about giving 100% every play and treating every play like the last play of the game. Once we got locked in and started doing the things we do best, we became the more physical team.”
Kapaun controlled the game early, taking a 14-7 lead into halftime, then extending its lead early in the third quarter thanks to explosive plays from senior Will Thengvall, who returned an interception for a score and then hauled in an 84-yard touchdown pass to put the Crusaders in front 28-14.
That’s when Northwest transitioned back to its power-running game behind its offensive line of seniors Nathan Davis Jr., Dalton Schraeder, Braxton Hopper, junior Devin Gracey and sophomore Deongelo Williams. When Hopper was injured during the game, Martin said a key to the win was the play of Maddox McGinnis, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound freshman who was ready for his first varsity action against a top-notch opponent.
“Maddox is going to be a very special lineman, but he’s just a freshman,” Martin said. “I’ve been around him my whole life. He’s best friends with my son, so I’ve always known he’s had it in him, but the high school varsity game is a lot different. We were cautious to put him in and he got thrown into the fire, but he proved he can play at this level and he did an amazing job for us.”
With the offensive line paving the way, the Grizzlies swung the game with three straight touchdowns — all scored by Thompson — in the final six minutes of the third quarter. Just like that, Northwest went from down 14 to up 35-28.
Kapaun’s own all-state running back, Air Force commit Omari Elias, had a response early in the fourth quarter when he broke off a 70-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 35 with 9:02 remaining.
But Northwest’s ground game could not be stopped, as the Grizzlies had little issue driving the length of the field once again with Thompson scoring from eight yards out for a 42-35 lead with 7:01 left.
Thompson finished with 25 carries for 227 rushing yards and five touchdowns, while Northwest quarterback Jayce Glasper added 101 rushing yards and a score and sophomore Aaron Bohannon Jr. chipped in 79 rushing yards.
“It just feels amazing to have a game like that,” Thompson said. “I wanted to do whatever it took to make my team win. I always want to be there for my team and we did a great job executing and it starts with my linemen up front blocking for me. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to score that many times.”
Penalties derailed Kapaun’s comeback chances, beginning with a substitution infraction that pushed its offense back five yards on third down and ultimately led to a punt.
But more crucially, Kapaun was flagged for encroachment on what was going to be a third-and-7 with 1:52 remaining. Instead, Northwest was moved up five yards and easily converted the third down to run out the clock.