By Nathan Oster
Survive and advance.
That’s the name of the game when it comes to the postseason — and the Burlington Huskies are, in fact, moving on after a 52-22 thrashing of Midwest Friday in the opening round of the Class 1A six-man football playoffs.
But it wasn’t as easy as the final score suggests.
The Huskies, who with their 7-1 record entered as the No. 2 seed from the West, needed a big third quarter to put away a Midwest team that had played them to a 16-16 draw over the first two quarters.
“It feels good to be moving on,” said Coach Mike Aagard, whose team will face Kaycee later this week for a berth in the state championship game. “The first half was a little frustrating for us, with the turnovers and just not playing all that well.
“But in the third we were able to open it up a little bit…finally.”
Midwest entered with confidence, perhaps because it had played the Huskies within four points in the season opener, and actually drew first blood. A touchdown pass and the PAT that followed gave them a quick 8-0 lead.
But the Huskies evened the score moments later, after the first of three Tallon Wiles interceptions set them up at midfield. Malachi Cook scored the touchdown on 1-yard plunge as time expired in the first quarter.
Midway through the second, Midwest was on the march when Jarom Davidson made a big play, intercepting a pass and returning it 70 yards before being brought down inside the Midwest 10-yard line.
A Wiles-to-Dallen Davidson touchdown pass followed soon after, which combined with the PAT, staked Burlington to a 16-8 lead. A late touchdown, however, brought Midwest back into a tie going into the locker room.
The game turned in the third quarter.
All four times the Oilers touched the ball, they were turned away. Two of the drives stalled on downs, a Wiles interception thwarted another, and a fourth resulted in a punt. That was all the Huskies needed.
Each time they stopped the Oilers, they went down to score a touchdown of their own.
Wiles did most of the damage for the Huskies. His 6-yard run with 6:39 to go in the quarter staked the Huskies to a 24-16 lead. Then, after he picked off another pass, Wiles went on a 25-yard scamper, which combined with the PAT made it 32-16.
The onslaught continued. A nice tackle on a fourth-down play by Malachi Cook gave the Huskies another short field — and once again, it was Wiles who cashed it in, scoring on a 12-yard run that made it 38-16.
Burlington’s fourth and final touchdown of the quarter came on a pass from Wiles to Dontae Garza that covered 22 yards. With the kick, the lead stretched to 46-16. A tack-on touchdown by Jacob Cook, coming on a 3-yard run, capped the scoring for the Huskies.
Aagard attributed the big second half to not only the defensive stops, but also the Huskies’ depth. While many of the Midwest players went both ways, the Huskies were able to rotate in and out a little bit more.
“That’s something that’s come along as the season has progressed,” said Aagard. “The younger kids have proven that they could do the job, so we’ve been able to rotate a little more freely and speed things up on offense.
“I think we had (Midwest) sucking air pretty bad in the second half.”
The Huskies finished with 333 yards through the air, with Wiles finishing 24 of 36. Cook caught 10 passes for 102 yards, Dallen Davidson gathered four for 64 yards and Garza hauled in three for 62 yards.
Burlington rushed 21 times for 182 yards. Wiles led with 160 on 12 carries, followed by Jacob Cook with 24 yards on five carries.
Aagard was asked to compare the team that faced Midwest on Friday to the one that took the field for the season opener.
“I think we’ve come along and found out who we are,” he said. “The first game was good for us because it was a dogfight. We had to show some toughness, and I think it set the tone for the whole season. Whether playing Farson or Little Snake River, we needed to have it in order to be successful. That first game established it for us. We found our identity, and along the way, the kids have become more confident.”
Kaycee has won the last two state titles and is the big kid on the block again this year in six-man football. The Buckaroos are 9-0, and if you take out their 2-0 win by forfeit over Rock River, they’ve put up 67 or more points every time they’ve taken the field this season.
“It’s a big challenge,” said Aagard. “Talking to other coaches that have played them, they’re just a good all around team. They block hard, they run hard. On defense, they are aggressive and they swarm to the ball. Some teams don’t handle that real well and turn it over a lot.”
Aagard said a “total team effort” will be needed for the Huskies to win. “We need to take care of the ball and not put our defense in tough spots,” he said. “They have a good back, and we need to do a good job of tackling him.