TOPEKA — Sometimes coaches and players have to find silver lining in a tough loss.
It’s not too often that positives aren’t in abundance after a win.
Corby Milleson wasn’t at a complete loss for approval over what his team accomplished on Friday night.
He certainly was far from at ease with the end result either.
The 98-16 on the final scoreboard certainly looked the part of one team brutally manhandling another. Yet Emporia High was, for a time anyway, in a position where he felt there wasn’t much else that could be done — except score.
“I don’t feel good about the score of the game,” he said. “That’s just from the standpoint of how ugly it got early. We had multiple possessions in the first half deep inside their territory because they wouldn’t try (to) flip the field. It’s hard to take much away from it.”
Emporia High had two touchdowns in the first two minutes of the game, both coming on the first offensive play of the possession. Connor Hoyt ran in an 18-yard touchdown just 55 seconds into play and Beau Baumgardner added a 7-yard strike just seconds later after a Scot turnover.
By the time the first quarter was halfway completed, the Spartan advantage was 28-0 and the starters had already begun to take a backseat.
“We started subbing in the first quarter,” Milleson said. “We started rotating our second-team tackles, they were going about every other series. After about the first possession in the second quarter, we started pulling players, we didn’t want to make a wholesale sub at (the) line, but we wanted to get more kids in the game.”
The game was long decided by the time the second quarter even arrived. The Spartans scored seven touchdowns in the opening period, watching the Scots lose a fumble and throw an interception. Highland Park also muffed a kickoff in the second quarter, giving the ball back to E-High.
The turnovers weren’t even the worst part, though giving the Spartans extra life on a night it wasn’t needed. Highland Park, whether by injury or nature, didn’t attempt to punt the ball. Period. The Spartans began six of their first seven offensive drives inside the Scots’ 30-yard line. Twice, E-High started with less than 10 yards of space to the end zone.
In the first quarter alone, EHS scored 49 points, but only used 13 offensive plays to do so. John Miller, Skyler Douglas, Keagan Lee and Charles Snyder also made their way into the end zone in the game’s first 12 minutes.
“It’s a lose-lose situation,” Milleson said. “They refused to punt. You’re moving the ball on offense, kind of at will with your second-teamers and even late in the game with our freshmen. What else can you do other than take a knee? And that sends the wrong message to your team (but) it looks bad to fans when you score the amount of points that we scored tonight.”
By halftime, the varsity starters were long gone, but Emporia High had only taken 26 snaps on offense, putting up 84 points in the process.
In the second quarter, Kadyn Williams scored two rushing touchdowns of 35 and 37 yards, adding to second scores from Douglas and Snyder. Williams hit Bobby Trujillo with a touchdown pass in the waning seconds before the intermission on the Spartans’ longest scoring drive of the first half, consisting of just seven plays.
The second half saw a running clock throughout as the Spartans’ third-stringers and freshmen played a majority of the time, scoring twice. Aidan Jackson and Cal Kohlmeier both found the end zone, Jackson from just one yard out and Kohlmeier on a run from midfield.
“That last touchdown, we were counting on the quarterback handing the ball off to the fullback,” Milleson said. “The clock was running down. I thought he’d hand it off to the fullback, I figured that would be the read we got based on the defense they play. Cal did a great job of reading it, then made a guy miss (a tackle) and scored. That was good to see, it was good to see that ...he did exactly as he’d been coached to do and executed well.
“Our starting tailback had one carry, our second-team tailback had two carries, our third-team tailback probably had 10. Other than getting our underclassmen a lot of good game reps, I’m not sure what we can take away from the game.”
Ten different Spartans scored on the night, including two touchdowns by Lee, who had five carries for a team-high 82 yards.
“He’s been paying a lot of attention in practice and listening to coaching, taking directions,” Milleson said. “I thought he did everything that he’d been coached to do in practice, running behind the shoulder pads, securing the football, getting second-effort yardage — he had a great game.”
After Kohlmeier’s touchdown and the score sitting at 98, Milleson called a timeout with the clock winding down. Instead of attempting a two-point conversion that would’ve put the Spartans at the century mark, the team then took a knee to help burn the waning moments away.
The timeout? He hadn’t worked with his freshmen on the victory formation and wanted to make sure they all were in the right place and were on the same page.
“We just wanted to make sure that these kids knew that this is how you do it and use it as a teachable moment,” he said.
It was also the second time in three weeks the Spartan varsity hadn’t finished a full game out after a 33-0 storm-shortened win over Seaman on Sept. 27.
While some of the starters likely appreciated the rest, the Spartans’ season now hinges on their next two games, against Topeka High next week and a home contest with Junction City the week after.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Milleson said. “We didn’t play a full game against Seaman. We played less than a half against Highland Park and our two toughest games remaining this season are staring us directly in the face. On one hand, yeah, we get a chance to rest some kids ... we’re not really banged up, we do a great job in the weight room with preventative stuff. At the same time, the key to the game against Topeka High is going to be quantum leaps greater than the key to the game was tonight.”