Andale, Buhler begin districts with an unbeaten duel
Buhler’s defense and/or offense could be credited with the Crusaders’ 6-0 record and No. 3 ranking in Class 4A. They have outscored opponents 225-93.
But maybe it’s really the poise they have played with as they’ve faced deficits against both Collegiate and Mulvane (32-28 and 35-28 wins). The Crusaders’ composure has extended to dealing with injuries, including to running back Riley Allen, who had more than 2,000 rushing yards in 2012, and quarterback Luke Berblinger.
Or maybe it’s the Crusaders’ depth, because Denton Branscom (522 rushing yards) has filled in well for Allen (853), as has sophomore quarterback Jace Williams.
Whatever the reason, Buhler, which opens Class 4A-District 13 play by hosting unbeaten Andale at 7 Friday night, has proven to be a formidable opponent.
“We’re playing some of our best football,” Buhler coach Steve Warner said. “It took us a while to get going, but our offensive line is much better. We’re way bigger on the line, but a lot of those guys didn’t start last year.… And our defense has given up points at times, but it’s pretty stingy, it’s aggressive, it’s a lot like Andale’s.”
Andale’s defense has allowed 64 points, but 44 were scored by Collegiate and Rose Hill in the first two weeks.
Andale coach Gary O’Hair pointed to the play of linebacker Jason Hermreck.
“He has real good instincts,” O’Hair said. “He’s a good, tall kid. He’s aggressive and hits well. The biggest thing is he reacts well to the pass. He’s 6-foot-3 and it’s hard to throw over him, and he takes away the slant.”
Hunter Knoblauch and Logan Horsch have also played well on defense.
Buhler’s offense is a threat, although the Crusaders could be without Allen, who could be a game-time decision.
“It’s a great time to talk about Denton Branscom, who had (anterior cruciate ligament surgery) last year,” Warner said. “He hits the holes sometimes harder than Riley. Riley’s vision is so good, so he can be a little more patient. Denton’s just as quick, but Riley probably has a step on him in the 40 (yard dash).”
Andale also has a strong running game to contend with, as Knoblauch has 767 rushing yards on 64 carries, averaging nearly 12 yards per carry. Hank Eck averages 15.4 (384 yards), and Hayden Bugner has 158 yards on seven carries. QB Jared Smarsh adds 230 rushing yards, 326 passing.
The winner of this game has the advantage when it comes to winning the district title, but it won’t be a cakewalk to take that district runner-up spot for the second postseason berth with Cheney (4-2) still on the schedule.