A game dominated by big games went to the Hayden Wildcats (3-0), who edged Rossville (1-2) 55-34 on Friday night and had a non-conference run through top opponents from small ones schools graduated.
Hayden produced five scoring plays of at least 46 yards. The Bulldawgs responded with long, pounding drives but eventually fell out of pace.
Here are five takeaways from the competition.
Hayden’s Jensen Schrickel is a weapon
Jensen Schrickel, Hayden’s second year, tore a hole in the transmission units and the hearts of the Bulldawgs almost before the fans could settle into their seats. He took the opening kickoff at the 26-yard line and sped through the coverage team before they could lock him in, reaching Paydirt in just 10 seconds.
After three games from scrimmage, Rossville had to stab. They made the mistake – a mistake they would try not to repeat – of sending a returnable kick in Schrickel’s direction. He caught the ball on the 33 and sprinted the other way, taking it 67 yards for a second touchdown.
Just a minute and 22 seconds into the contest, it was Schrickel 14, Rossville 0. And Hayden had one play to run from scrimmage.
“It feels really good to do that on a return,” said Schrickel. “One of the best feelings is waking up early, especially back-to-back.”
What makes him so dangerous on returns?
“Well, of course you have to catch it first,” said Schrickel with a grin, “but after that our team’s blocking on returns is really good. So I just saw a hole and walked through it.”
Hayden trainer Bill Arnold agreed that Schrickel benefited from good scheme and execution.
“If you create a game plan and execute something on a Friday night after you turned it in on Monday, I was very happy,” Arnold said. “Coach (Howard) Tush is doing a good job with the special teams. We thought we could benefit from it. Up until that point (Rossville) had been really good on special teams so we put a lot of emphasis on that this week.”
Knowing Schrickel’s exploits in athletics, it’s no surprise that he can outrun a defense. He took the 4A long jump title and finished seventh in the 400 meter dash as a freshman.
“He’s a great competitor,” Arnold said of Schrickel. “Obviously God gave him a certain talent, but he never changes. His feelings never change. I’m happy with any success he’s having out here because he’s a great person to coach.”
After blasting the two kicks for points, Schrickel kicked the extra points. In the second half, he took a pass from sophomore Jett Wahlmeier for a score of 48 yards and ran 12 yards back for a fourth touchdown. He was also seven out of eight extra points.
Big games made the difference
Aside from Schrickel’s four electrifying scores, Hayden blasted several other big plays highlighted by a 98-yard scoring run from JC Cummings. Those big plays were the undoing of the visiting Bulldawgs, who cut Hayden’s lead to 28-21 early in the second half but quickly faded.
“That was a thorn in our side at the beginning of the season,” said Rossville coach Derick Hammes. “We gave up too many big plays and unfortunately we also added the kicking part tonight. We were not good at that early on.”
In addition to Cummings’ great run, Finn Dunshee broke scoring runs of 46 and 20 yards.
“They have a lot of guys in the box,” Arnold said of Rossville’s defensive strategy. “If you can get past that front wall, there’s not much left back there. We were able to arrest a few of them.”
In addition, Wahlmeier completed six of 10 attempts for 128 yards and a score.
Hayden threads the needle
Hayden may not have known when he set the non-conference 2022 schedule that he would be up against two defending champions and one other permanent powerhouse, but they endured that to go 3-0.
The Wildcats opened with 1A champion Olpe and walked away with a 21-7 win. They then traveled to Silver Lake and won 43-10. They finished the non-conference list with two-time defending champions 2A Rossville.
“These are solid programs with great traditions,” Arnold said of the non-conference opponents. “That’s what we wanted to play. You want to have competitive games to figure out your weaknesses and stuff before jumping into the real season, the districts. It went really well.”
“We knew it was going to be tough,” added Schrickel. “I don’t think we expected to win as far as we have in these games. It’s really nice to progress with three wins.”
Despite being 3-0, Arnold said the Wildcats still have room for improvement.
“I’m happy with the progress we’re making and we’ll keep getting better, especially when the guys start taking some roles for us,” said the Hayden coach. “We just have to keep improving in practice.”
Rossville is improving
Prior to this season, Rossville’s last loss was in November 2019. After a string of 24 straight wins and two state titles, the Bulldawgs finally needed to rebuild. With a tough loss to St. Marys and a win to Riley County, Rossville is in the middle of a tough learning curve.
“The kids played hard,” Hammes said. “Hayden is really good. Hats off to them. They rolled up their sleeves and played really well tonight.
“We have to separate what is a good performance and then deal with some things that we need to improve. I’m proud of the kids for the effort but disappointed with the result. We just have to go to work and improve as a team.”
The Bulldawgs bounced back from Schrickel’s two early hits to keep the game competitive. After falling into a 21-0 hole, they matched the Wildcats for much of the game.
“Rossville is a good team,” Arnold said. “They are ahead physically. Coach Hammes does a really good job defensively. Also offensive. He always does a good job of scheming defensively.”
Camden Horak leads the Dawgs
Junior quarterback Camden Horak had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of his cousin, Torrey Horak, an All-State signal caller who led the team to two titles.
The junior took the team on his shoulders at Hayden and fought to the end. He carried the ball 33 times for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Despite the physical beatings, he also completed 14 of 29 passes for 182 yards and two more touchdowns.
“He’s trying very hard. He’s a two-way player and he cares,” Hammes said of Horak. “I’m proud of him, as are all the other kids who put in a great effort tonight.”
Horak found receiver Trenton Barker with four passes for 77 yards. He hit receiver Aryon Klesath with four throws for 77 yards and one score.
Running back Kade Perine made his way for 41 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.