Bulldogs trying to build momentum for possible playoff game

Arkansas City High School sophomore tailback Wyatt Bahm (2) breaks through tackles two weeks ago against Maize. Bahm gave the Bulldogs their best running game of the season in last week’s 22-14 victory at Goddard-Eisenhower, finishing with 63 yards and three touchdowns.

Arkansas City High School head football coach Jon Wiemers says the team has a 24-hour rule after ballgames — win or lose. Enjoy the win or reflect on the loss, then move on to the next game.

The Bulldogs also don’t look ahead, and they certainly don’t look at the playoff scenario.

So when Valley Center rolls into town for tonight’s game at Bulldog Stadium, the focus is on the Hornets and nothing else.

“We just have to focus on the process of getting better every day,” Wiemers said. “I think it is a good match-up for us and a good challenge. They are controlling the ball on offense and playing good defense. We will have to stop the run on defense and be able to sustain drives on offense. We have to be able to take advantage of every situation when we have the football.”

Two streaks between these two teams ended last weekend.

The Bulldogs (2-4, 1-3 AV-CTL D-II) snapped a four-game losing skid with a splendid 22-14 victory at Goddard-Eisenhower. The Hornets (3-3, 2-2) saw a three-game winning streak snapped with a 35-27 loss to Andover.

Ark City’s defense deployed that “bend, don’t break” attitude that’s been used in years past. The Bulldogs gave up 320 yards of total offense, but held Eisenhower to 5 of 11 on third-down conversions. Ark City also forced five turnovers.

The struggles in the ground game continued, however, despite a gutsy performance by sophomore tailback Wyatt Bahm, who finished with 63 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries. The rest of the team combined for minus-28 yards, including three sacks on quarterback Gabe Welch.

Valley Center’s line appears to be just as formidable as those that have haunted the Bulldogs since their 33-0 Week 1 victory against Winfield in the Cowley Cup game.

“They are playing well up front this year. When you are controlling the ball like they are on offense, you have to be good up front,” Wiemers said. 

“They are running the ball well and have a good play-action game off of it. Their front six are aggressive on defense and have stopped the run, for the most part, on defense. We have to stop the run and be able to generate some positive yards in our run game.”

Welch finished 22-of-38 passing for 270 yards, with one interception. His favorite target was wide receiver Lucas Barnes, who hauled in seven passes for 130 yards.

“We are learning, as a team, to play the situation better,” Wiemers said. “Coach (Eric) Burrow has done a great job getting our kids prepared for situations.

“You have to understand situations on defense and your kids have to understand what the situation is. We practice these situations all of the time — third-and-6 is a lot different than first-and-10. You have to be able to get their offense off the field and get ours on. We just have to keep evolving on offense in our execution. We have made improvements every week and have to continue not to shoot ourselves in the foot. We can move the ball, but we can’t have self-inflicted errors that prevent us from getting points.”

The Bulldogs scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes at Eisenhower after the teams played to a 7-7 tie until that point.

“I was very proud of our kids with how they finished the game,” Wiemers said. “There was some great juice and we got some momentum at the end and finished the game.”

Valley Center quarterback Kalen Harden played solid football during the winning streak.

He threw three touchdown passes, two to Gabe Phillips, in last weekend’s loss to Andover, and hooked up with Phillips in their Week 5 win against Andover Central.

The duo connected for three TD passes in a 34-6 victory against makeshift opponent Pleasant Hill, Mo., when Coffeyville was forced to cancel due to COVID-19 concerns.

Tailback Dom Phillips also scored a touchdown two weeks ago against the Jaguars, carried 30 times for 154 yards in Week 4 against Salina Central, and amassed 176 yards and two scores on 24 carries against Pleasant Hill.

Despite their 2-4 record, the Bulldogs are still very much in the race for a Week 9 home playoff game.

Only three teams — McPherson (5-1), Andover Central (4-1) and Buhler (3-2) have records above .500, and only the Bullpups have clinched a home playoff.

Ark City sits ninth, just one point from eighth-place Augusta (2-4) in the plus-minus point total. Wamego, Rose Hill and Ulysses all are 3-3, and Independence is 1-2.

The Bulldogs play next weekend at Andover Central, so a victory tonight would be a boost. Wins both tonight and next week would almost surely place the Bulldogs at home in Week 9.

The Bulldogs are hopeful to get senior wide receiver-defensive back Haden O’Toole within a week or two, but he’ll remain sidelined. Sophomore lineman KJ Rikat, junior defensive back Reed Hodges and senior receiver-linebacker Walker Moulton also are out this week.

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