HARTFORD – West Central wasted little time taking a potential upset scenario out of the picture Monday night, rolling to a 21-0 first-quarter lead on the way to a 28-6 home victory over Lennox in the Class 11A state quarterfinals.
The defending champion Trojans played just a half of football in their 56-0 first-round win over Cheyenne-Eagle Butte, stopped short by the mercy rule. So they were extremely eager against the Orioles, who were coming off a 35-14 win over Dakota Valley.
With no serious test last week, West Central (8-2) had a choice of showing up well-rested or well-rusted against the Orioles. It was clear from the opening minute they’d chosen the former.
“We absolutely wanted a quick start – we wanted to jump right on them,” said senior running back Cody Bussell, who rushed seven times for 89 yards and two touchdowns. “They’ve definitely improved since the last time we played them.”
After stopping the Orioles (5-5) for negative yardage on the first possession of the game, the Trojans took over on the Lennox 27 and scored on their first play, with Dan Skinner going around the left side on an option untouched less than three minutes into the game.
A little more than two minutes later it was Seth Titus going in from the 5 to put West Central up 14-0. Bussell added a 42-yard score on a fake punt late in the first quarter to make it 21-0. Thereafter, anything short of a West Central collapse meant the Trojans were heading for a semifinal matchup with Dell Rapids.
“The start was the perfect storm,” said West Central coach Kent Mueller. “We had the short field for our first one, we had another short field and then the fake punt. We played about as well as we can play. And the second half was just as dismal the other way.”
The Orioles, who return a strong core group of juniors and sophomores next season under coach Matt Luze, slowed the Trojans down thereafter, giving up just a 24-yard Bussell score in the second quarter. But they were not able to sustain much offensively.
“It was my fault not having them ready to play early,” Luze said. “That’s something I have to improve on. I can’t say enough about the seniors – they all played hard, especially in the second half.”
The Orioles held the Trojans scoreless over the last 24 minutes after losing 49-6 to the Trojans during the regular season. That effort definitely hindered West Central’s progress but didn’t erase the damage.
“We felt we could play with them, but the one thing you can’t practice against is their speed,” Luze said. “Unfortunately we didn’t come out prepared for their speed as well as we hoped and we dug ourselves a hole.”
As a prep for the rematch with Dell Rapids – the Trojans lost 34-25 to Dell Rapids on Oct. 10 – it was vintage West Central playoff football for the first half. That’s the half Mueller would like to see on Saturday.
“Lennox is definitely better now,” Mueller said. “We probably slowed down coming off the ball a little, but part of our problem in the second half was how well they were playing. We got them 49-6 the last time and this game could have gone the same way. But to Matt’s credit, they hung in there.”
Lennox’s Nick Kayl had the only score in the second half, bringing in a 15-yard pass with 9:35 remaining. The Orioles rushed for 154 total yards with Collin McEntee leading the way with 10 carries for 52 yards. Josh Mettler had 47 yards rushing on five carries for West Central.
The Trojans, who were down early to Dell Rapids in the rivals’ last contest but played well in the second half, will now carry some of that momentum into Saturday’s rematch, with a trip to the DakotaDome on the line.
“We definitely are looking forward to going back to Dells,” Bussell said. “Defensively, we want to tackle better and offensively we want to finish drives. “