The Rematch

One of the few Cowley Cup differences — besides the weather — when Arkansas City plays tonight in Winfield will be who lines up at quarterback for the visiting Bulldogs. Senior KC Crandall, left, threw a last-minute touchdown pass to defeat Ark City 20-18 in the Cowley Cup on Sept. 6. Ark City freshman Gabe Welch, right, has taken the reins at quarterback for the Bulldogs since an injury in Week 2 to senior Haden O’Toole.

About the only thing that is expected to be vastly different the second time arch rivals Arkansas City and Winfield meet is the weather.

Well, there’s more on the line this time, too.

The Bulldogs (3-6) converge on Richard L. Jantz Stadium tonight for an unprecedented second shot at the Vikings (6-3) in the KSHSAA Class 4A Regionals.

Temperatures are expected in the low-40s to upper-30s by kickoff — a far cry from the balmy 89-degree September evening, including a heat index of 97 for the Cowley Cup game.

That game seems like a distant memory to some, but Ark City’s 20-18 loss on a last-minute touchdown pass has not been forgotten by the Bulldog faithful.

WHS senior KC Crandall found fellow senior Chance Price wide open for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left in front of a packed audience for one of the most thrilling Cup finishes in recent memory.

The Vikings lost the next week at 4A No. 2-ranked McPherson, but rolled off a four-game winning streak that ended in a stunning one-point loss at Wellington, followed by a home setback to 4A No. 7 Buhler.

Ark City wasn’t as fortunate. The loss was the first of five in a row before the Bulldogs took a defensive 9-6 triumph against Andover.

Both teams have been able to move the ball with moderate success this season, and for much of the same reason — two offensive lines that often are outsized but rarely outhustled.

The Bulldogs dwarfed Ulysses in the trenches last week, a rarity for an Ark City team that plays a schedule dominated by large, Wichita metro-area schools.

Winfield’s line has been vastly underrated, as well, helping to produce nearly 300 yards in the running game last week against El Dorado.

That said, both defenses are still the ticket to paradise.

The Vikings have posted three shutouts this season, twice against El Dorado, including a lopsided 37-0 trouncing of the Wildcats last Friday in the KSHSAA Class 4A Week 9 playoffs.

Though Ark City hasn’t recorded any shutouts, the Bulldogs have used a bend-but-don’t-break defense that has been suffocating on third and fourth down.

The only people who didn’t expect the Bulldogs to roll past Ulysses last Friday didn’t understand how tough a league both of these teams compete. The host Tigers, despite their higher seed, were no match for Ark City in a 55-17 blowout.

Crandall, who finished 11-of-24 passing for 136 yards and two touchdowns the first time these two teams met, was just 2-of-5 passing for 27 yards last week against El Dorado.

The Vikings didn’t need to throw the football, though, because the run game was effective to the tune of 298 yards.

One key difference for Ark City tonight is at quarterback.

When the two teams met in Week 1, senior Haden O’Toole was in the backfield, where he was 12-of-20 passing for 100 yards, with one interception. But an injury the next week against Goddard threatened to end O’Toole’s season. He returned two weeks ago and played sparingly against Andover Central — at wide receiver — before taking more of a load last week at Ulysses.

In his place, freshman Gabe Welch has often belied his lack of experience at the high school level.

Welch turned in his best performance to date last week at Ulysses, finishing 10-of-16 passing for 190 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception. Not only did he add a rushing touchdown to his credit, but one of his TD passes was to O’Toole.

While turnovers have reared their ugly heads for both teams on occasion throughout the season, it’s often the least-penalized team that comes away victorious. And both squads have seen their fair share of yellow flags.

The two rivals received several unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that last time they met.

The winner doesn’t receive the Cowley Cup, but a date in the Class 4A Sectionals next Friday against the winner between Goddard and McPherson.

Both of those schools handed the Cowley County teams their worst losses of the season. The Bullpups shut out Winfield 47-0 one week after the Cowley Cup game, the same time the Lions were shutting down Ark City 48-0.

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