Wamego’s football team hopes to make its mark and win its first state championship in school history Saturday as they hope to knock off Kansas powerhouse Bishop Miege.
Getting to a state title game in any class can be challenging. Wamego knows how particular this upcoming Saturday is for the community and program. It’s an opportunity that wasn’t handed to the Red Raiders; they had to earn it.
“These guys are excited to compete for a state championship, but they know the goal is to win it,” Wamego coach Weston Moody said. “I have one ring as a player, and I haven’t been to this game since then. I’m excited for it, and the kids are as well. The community has embraced us, and they are excited for this weekend. Now we just need to go out and win it.”
Wamego (12-0) is a well-rounded team that executes all three game phases to perfection. On offense, Wamego has the firepower to win shootouts. Defensively, the unit hasn’t allowed more than 16 points in any contest this season. Wamego’s special teams’ pursuits to the ball are disciplined, and they do all of the little things correctly, setting the team up for success.
The Red Raiders are averaging an astounding 42.3 points per game on offense while allowing a just 6.9 points per game.
Wamego’s team chemistry is strong. The players know each other’s strengths and weaknesses like the back of their hands which they use to help each other in film, practices and games.
“It seems like every year we are getting more buy-in from the guys,” Moody said. “We’ve been building on this. The guys can see what kind of success we have if we put our minds to it. When your season starts in June, the chemistry matters. When you have a bunch of people that care about each other, they are going to lay it out on the line. They lay it out on the line every single Friday.”
The coaches lead by example, creating a bond and building team chemistry. Moody’s staff gets together on the weekends. That chemistry matters, especially in football, where you rely heavily on the person next to you.
That chemistry was apparent when star senior quarterback Hayden Oviatt went down with a potential season-ending injury near the beginning of the year. Second-string quarterback Colin Donahue stepped up and embraced the challenge of winning games, while Oviatt’s injury had the Army signee sidelined for a significant amount of time.
“We had to face a ton of adversity when (Oviatt) went (down),” Moody said. “The injury was potentially season-ending, and it was tough on us. (Oviatt) decided to get the surgery done, so we knew it would be a while before he could return. Colin Donahue stepped in big for us. The story of those two guys is pretty incredible. They grew up playing together.
“Colin (Donahue) is a very cerebral person. He doesn’t have the physical attributes that Hayden (Oviatt) does, but he’s very intelligent. He’s a straight-A student who will probably become an engineer. Both quarterbacks are super talented, but without (Donahue) stepping in and playing as well as he did throughout the course of the season, it would’ve been more of a challenge.”
The entire Wamego squad has stepped up and played into their roles. However, the Red Raiders have its most significant challenge of the entire 2022 campaign ahead of them. Elite powerhouse Bishop Miege is hoping to give Wamego its first loss of the year in the state championship game.
“Bishop Miege is talented, and they are as good as advertised,” Moody said. “Our guys have (people call Wamego) the ‘public school state champions’, and to be honest, it’s just noise to them. We want to go up and win badly. We don’t want to settle for a second-place trophy. We are up for the challenge.”
Bishop Miege is a 10-time state champion on the gridiron. At one point in its program’s significant history, the Stags had won six straight state championships (2014-2019).
Luckily for both schools, there is some familiarity. Wamego and Bishop Miege met back on Oct. 9, 2020. The Stags and Red Raiders were looking for an opponent to play because of a commonality of COVID-19 cancellations. Instead, they would end up scheduling each other. Bishop Miege would go on to win that game 41-14.
“We had to pick up a game, and we were fortunate to pick up Bishop Miege,” Moody said. “We wanted to play Miege to show our guys that this is what the top of 4A looks like. A lot of our guys on the team now, played in that game. Bishop Miege was up 21-14 at the half. We felt like we were in that game, and we felt like we could win it. Our guys know what it takes, and our guys are not scared of them.”
Bishop Miege was impressed by Wamego’s willingness to schedule the Stags in 2020.
“That 2020 game to me showed me that Wamego wasn’t afraid to play us,” Bishop Miege coach Jon Holmes said. “Some other 4A teams, if they had the opportunity, would probably not want to play us that year. Wamego wanted to see us. That showed me that (Wamego) was serious about becoming a state contender. Now, here we are, meeting up for the state championship game.”
Bishop Miege (10-2) is coming off of two developmental years in 2020 and 2021. In 2020 and 2021, Bishop Miege had five wins each season, tallying up 12 combined losses. From 2013-2019, Bishop Miege only had a combined eight losses.
The Stags are back in their place as a state contender with its proven dominant year in 2022.
“It feels good to be back in this situation,” Holmes said. “2020 took a lot out of everybody. Coaches and players were asked to do a lot more than usual. We graduated a good senior class in 2020. We came in last year with a bunch of young guys and a new starting quarterback that was trying to learn some things. Unfortunately, our schedule didn’t give us any favors in those two years.”
With Bishop Miege’s history, they know they will get everyone’s best shot every time they step on the field. In 2022, Bishop Miege’s starting 11, in all three phases, look as complete as they’ve been since 2019.
Bishop Miege’s defense has been phenomenal. With the Stags’ strength of schedule, they went out and took care of business against top-ranked offenses throughout the year.
“Our defense has done very well this year,” Holmes said. “Every time you have a defense that can get stops and make plays, your team feeds off of that. Last year, we were in situations where our defense couldn’t make a stop. This year, I think we all have confidence in what our defense can do.”
Holmes acknowledged that Wamego would potentially be its biggest challenge of the season.
“We know Wamego is going to be a team that will give us their all,” Holmes said. “Things all start with Hayden Oviatt. He started against us as a sophomore (in 2020). Offensively, they do the same type of stuff that they did a couple of years ago when we saw them with their power and counter game. They want to beat you up, up front. That’s what our guys have to be ready for. Defensively, what sticks out is how hard they play. You can see it on the sideline. Their coaches coach them up hard, and they get excited and motivated.”
The 2022 4A State Championship game will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hummer Sports Park in Topeka.