Ark City still can play Week 9 in Bulldog Stadium

Just a sophomore, Arkansas City High School quarterback Gabe Welch is improving on decision-making skills, such as pass selection and when to scramble, as he does last Friday against Valley Center.

Which Arkansas City High School football team will show up tonight might be the question on the minds of fans when the Bulldogs take on Andover Central at Bulldog Stadium in the final regular-season game.

The Ark City team that opened the season with a promising 33-0 shutout of arch rival Winfield? That same team seemed to make an appearance in a gutsy 22-14 victory two weeks ago at Goddard-Eisenhower.

That Ark City team that lost for the fourth time in five games in last Friday’s uninspiring 27-21 home loss to Valley Center?

Or the Ark City team that has been outscored 194-83 since that Week 1 victory against Winfield?

The hunt for a home playoff spot is enough to pump anyone up. And believe it or not, the Bulldogs still can play host to a Week 9 playoff game.

They have to get past the Jaguars, of course. No easy task, as Andover Central has outscored the opposition 166-122 while averaging almost 28 points a game — and that includes last weekend’s 7-0 squeaker to beat crosstown rival Andover.

A victory for the Bulldogs would put them at 3-5. However, just four teams in the Class 4A West Regional standings are above .500 — McPherson (6-1) and Andover Central (5-1) have clinched home-field games, leaving six spots up for grabs.

El Dorado (3-2) sits third entering play tonight, and Rose Hill (4-3) is fourth.

Buhler (3-3) is who the Bulldogs would play on the road next week is the season ended yesterday. After that, though, it’s Wamego, Augusta and Ulysses all at 3-4, COVID-19 plagued Independence (1-2) and Wellington, also 2-5.

That’s nine teams battling for the six remaining home playoff spots.

It’ll be no easy task to get there.

The Jaguars have beaten three teams — Goddard, Salina Central and Andover — that Ark City has lost to. However, Andover Central lost to Valley Center 14-12 in Week 5.

So it’s safe to ask which Andover Central team will converge tonight on Bulldog Stadium.

The makeup of the two teams is eerily similar.

The Jaguars have struggled to run the football, just not as much as Ark City.

Andover Central enters play averaging 5.3 yards per carry, but were held to a net 26 yards on 27 carries last week against a smothering Andover defense that shut out Ark City 21-0 in Week 2. 

The only score of the game was a touchdown run by wide receiver Davin Simms, who finished with minus-1 net yards.

Jacob Rees leads the team with 521 yards and five touchdowns on 84 totes, and Ashton Barkdull isn’t far behind with 520 yards and two scores on 79 tries. Both are averaging better than six yards per carry. The rest of the team is averaging just 1.4 yards per carry.

Senior quarterback Chase White has a 61 percent (86 of 140) completing percentage and has thrown for 1,047 yards and nine TDs, with five interceptions. His favorite receivers are Kyle Kohman (25-394 2TD), Jack Bell (23-293 2TD) and Simms (19-271 3TD). Kohman caught six passes for 84 yards to lead the team last week.

Rees and Kohman lead the team defensively. Rees has 10 tackles for loss, while Kohman has recorded 3 1/2 sacks.

Unlike the experienced White, Ark City counters with a sophomore at quarterback. Gabe Welch has paid his dues and already is a two-year starter. He was only sacked three times last week, but has had his share of scrambling, long enough to complete 58 percent (123 of 213) of his passes for 1,599 yards and six touchdowns, with eight interceptions.

Like the Jags, Welch has a bevy of talented receivers to throw to. Cadon Clark leads the team with 33 catches for 376 yards, but has yet to find the end zone. Haden O’Toole, who might be able to return from injury in time for the playoffs, has seven catches for 259 yards and a team-high three TDs. That’s an average of 37 yards per catch. Devon Watkins (21-251), Lucas Barnes (13-224 1TD), Owen Bucher (19-182 1TD) and Lance Blubaugh (16-146 1TD) also make inviting targets.

Ark City’s ground game, however, has been a thorn all season. The Bulldogs are averaging just 1.7 yards per carry, led by tailback Wyatt Bahm, who has 166 yards and eight TDs on 49 carries (3.4 average).

For Internet scoreboard watchers, El Dorado plays at Winfield, Rose Hill is at Independence, Buhler is at 1-4 Towanda-Circle, Wamego plays host to 0-4 Abilene, Ulysses plays host to Class 6A Dodge City (2-5), and Wellington is at home against 1-5 Mulvane.

The chance to host a Week 9 playoff game is Ark City’s to lose.

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