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Spartan head coach Keaton Tuttle rallies the troops during the first half of Emporia’s loss to Hayden on Sept. 3.

Six games into the 2021 football season, Emporia High has only played at home twice. That will change Friday as the Spartans host Junction City in the first of back-to-back games at Welch Stadium to round out the regular season.

The Spartans (1-5) spent the last two Fridays in Topeka, getting blown out by Washburn Rural 45-9 two weeks ago before falling to Seaman 22-6 last week in a game where the defense came to play but the offense struggled to move the ball.

The last time Emporia played at home was Sept. 24 when the Spartans beat Highland Park 42-34 on homecoming for the first win of Tuttle’s career and the team’s first win in 364 days.

Head coach Keaton Tuttle said it’ll be “refreshing” to play in front of a home crowd again, especially with as good as those home crowds have been.

“I’ve got to give a lot of kudos to our community, our parents, our student section,” he said. “They show up every week and they cheer us on come hell or high water. They do. Our players know that. They feel it, they sense it and I think it brings an added aspect to the game when you have a home crowd like that.”

Playing at home also gives the Spartans some time to unwind between the end of the school day and game time. Whereas for road games the team leaves by 4 p.m., for home games players aren’t required to be at Welch Stadium until 5 p.m.

“I think they get a little more time to get off their feet,” Tuttle said. “They can run home, potentially see their parents, stuff like that.”

The Spartans and the Blue Jays kick off at 7 p.m. from Welch Stadium.

SCOUTING THE BLUE JAYS

Junction City enters Friday’s contests with a 5-1 record and has won four straight games, all of which were against teams that have beaten Emporia this year – including Seaman and Washburn Rural.

While the Blue Jays lost significant weapons from a 2020 team that smacked Emporia 62-15 en route to the 6A state semifinals, they have reloaded to build a team that seems to improve each week.

Junction City’s one defeat this season came in week two, a 37-21 loss to rival Manhattan, which is also 5-1 and visits Emporia next week.

“They’re physical up front, offensively and defensively, and they’ve got some really good athletes,” Tuttle said of Junction City. “They’ve got a lot of speed.”

Tuttle said he expects the Blue Jays defense to take advantage of the Spartans’ weakness, which is picking up the blitz up the middle. In anticipation of that, Emporia’s practices this week have focused heavily on sending a variety of blitz packages at the offense.

“One of the biggest things about picking up a blitz as a player is you’ve got to almost experience it,” he said. “You can draw these things up all day long on a board or on paper, but until you actually sense that, how a guy’s going to look, if he’s tilted in his alignment, if he’s peeking in the backfield, if he’s getting antsy at the line of scrimmage, if he’s walked up, if he’s not walked up, those are all things they’ve got to experience.”

He acknowledged that practice has been tough on his guys this week but said that that was because he wants to see them succeed on game day.

“We tell them all week long: ‘practice supposed to be hard,’” he said. “‘Practice is supposed to be the hardest thing you do all week so when you come to the game, you're prepared. It's not necessarily easy but you’re prepared, so it's easier than practice.’”

AIMING FOR 1,000

Emporia’s senior quarterback Cam Geitz will look to eclipse the 1,000-yard passing mark this season when the Spartans and Blue Jays clash. He has already thrown for 924 yards and eight TDs while completing 49 of 101 attempts and throwing just one interception.

More than half of Geitz’s passing yards have been legged out Parker Leeds, who has 19 receptions for 488 yards and three touchdowns. Kaden Woydziak is second with 173 yards and a TD on seven receptions while Bobby Trujillo has 89 yards and a score on nine catches.

‘A LOT OF HEART’

In addition to being Emporia’s third-leading receiver, Trujillo is also the leader on defense with 84 total tackles and is also second on the team in rushing with 95 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s a heck of a player for us,” Tuttle said. “ … He’s a pretty good teammate. He sticks with those guys and he’s starting to hold himself a lot more accountable. One thing we try to push him all the time, we tell him, ‘Hey, great players make those around us even better.’ And so that’s one thing we’re trying to challenge him a lot on because he can be a fantastic player and he could be one of the best that we’ve had in a long, long time. But we’re challenging him and others to continually push themselves. … A lot of it comes down to heart. He’s got a lot of heart, pushing himself, and he wants this program to be successful.”

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