The Emporia High football team faces a short week as it heads back out on the road for a Thursday tilt with Centennial League opponent Topeka High.
The Spartans are 0-2 on the season after their valiant comeback effort came up just short in a 36-32 loss to Topeka West last Friday night. Quarterback Cam Geitz threw for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the defeat while adding 52 yards on the ground. Running back Derrick Keys carried the ball for an additional 76 yards and wide receiver Parker Leeds had three receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Head coach Keaton Tuttle said that, although Emporia didn’t pull out the win last week, the Spartans’ significantly improved offensive performance had helped his players build confidence going into week three against Topeka High.
“I just think as a whole we started to realize we can move the ball, we can do a few things different things we want to do,” he said.
However, he said he thought the defense took a step back from its impressive week one performance. Against Hayden, the Spartans just 210 yards and Tuttle said he had counted five missed tackles. Topeka West, though, rolled up 442 yards and Tuttle reported more than 20 missed tackles.
But taking the two games together, there is reason for optimism.
“We told them, we put a defensive effort together like we did against Hayden and we put an offensivee effort [like we did] against Topeka West, we put those in the same game, we’ll be pretty successful,” Tuttle said.
That will certainly be the goal as the Spartans take the turnpike north to face the Trojans.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic caused Topeka High to miss its first several games in 2020, it didn’t play Emporia last season. The last time the two schools met was in 2019, when the Trojans blanked the Spartans 27-0 in the midst of an 11-2 season that brought them within spitting distance of a state title.
But this is a different Topeka High team. The Trojans went just 1-4 a year ago and are off to an 0-2 start in 2021, opening their season with a 34-0 loss at Junction City followed by a 42-13 loss to Washburn Rural last Friday.
Senior running back Tylan Alejos is Topeka High’s primary offensive weapon. Last week against the Junior Blues, he tallied 25 carries for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 12 carries for 95 yards against Junction City in a game that was called at halftime due to lightning.
Peyton Wheat, the Trojans’ junior starting quarterback in their first two games, left last week’s game early with an apparent injury and didn’t return. It’s unclear whether he’ll be ready to go for Friday’s clash with the Spartans.
Tuttle said that what strikes him most about Topeka High this year is its physicality, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
“They’re aggressive, they want to play physical, they’re not shying away from anything, that’s for sure,” he said. “On top of that, they’ve got some really good athletes all over the field. They’ve got a lot of size and they’re very athletic.”
That being said, Tuttle knows that Topeka High is not out of his team’s league and that Thursday’s game should be an even one.
“If we can limit [mistakes] as much as possible and really elevate our play and those around us, we’ll be right there where we want to be,” he said.
This week’s game presents a unique challenge as well, taking place on a Thursday night instead of the typical Friday. In addition to the quotidian concerns of players getting home from a road game in Topeka in time to get a reasonable amount of sleep before waking up for school Friday morning, the Spartans are also facing a shorter week of practice.
“It’s tough when you don’t have a full week of preparation,” he said. “We’ll have to cut things back some [Wednesday]. [Tuesday] will be a regular, full practice, which we’ll try to ramp up our intensity a little bit [Tuesday], just because usually Wednesday is our big, intense day. … But I think that the biggest thing is making sure we’re focused on our opponent, not underestimating them or overestimating them and making sure we’re ready a day earlier.”
Emporia and Topeka High will kick off from the Hummer Sports Park in Topeka at 7 p.m. on Thursday.