After Friday night’s season opener between Tonganoxie and Basehor-Linwood, Basehor-Linwood coach Rod Stallbaumer led off his postgame interview with good quote, “As they say in coaching, learn your lessons in a win.” That makes perfect sense if you ask me.
Even in the loss, though, Tongie coach Preston Troyer and his team had absolutely nothing to hang their heads about. Before I interviewed Troyer, I kept thinking of an important lesson for all sports reporters: never judge a team simply by looking at its roster.
Going into the matchup between the Bobcats and Chieftains, I knew that the Chieftains were a very young team with a first-year head coach in Troyer. While it can be challenging for a first-year head coach to put a young team in a position to win, Troyer and the Chieftains proved that that shouldn’t always be assumed.
Also of note, Troyer is a first-year head coach in job title only. He’s following in the footsteps of his father, Al Troyer, who retired in the spring after spending 10 of his 38-year coaching career at Tongie. I had the chance to cover a few Tongie games in the past three seasons, and there was always a toughness about Al’s teams. That same toughness was still on full display in Preston’s head coaching debut.
Before giving a few of examples of that Tongie toughness from the Chieftains’ 47-42 loss to the Bobcats, I want to circle back about that sports reporting lesson I mentioned in the first paragraph. On the 55 players on the THS roster, only five of them—Jack Messersmith, Wyatt Harris, Nathan Smith, Logan Schmidt, and Conner Cole—are seniors. The balance of the roster is comprised of 20 freshmen, 19 sophomores and 11 juniors.
Meanwhile, here’s how Basehor-Linwood’s 68-player roster is constructed—one freshman, 26 sophomores, 24 juniors and 17 seniors. This point isn’t to take anything away Basehor-Linwood and has everything to do with never judging a team simply by looking at its roster. Now, on to a few of those examples of Tongie toughness.
On Tonganoxie’s first drive, Basehor-Linwood made an early opening statement with a near pick six by Mason Morgan that was returned to the 1-yard line. The Bobcats broke the scoreless tie just a few plays later on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Brady VanDonge to Milé Hinkle. To make matters worse for the Chieftains, starting quarterback Trevor McGraw was also knocked out of the game in the first quarter.
That’s a lot to go wrong in the matter of just a couple of minutes for a young team in its season opener. But the Chieftains didn’t let the game get away from them. Noah Carlton filled in admirably for McGraw when the Chieftains were looking to pass. He completed 7 of 12 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. Carlton wasn’t the only Chieftain that came through in the clutch under center either. Tyler Pankey moved from tight end to quarterback and rushed 66 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries when the Chieftains lined up in the wildcat.
Pankey joined Tonganoxie running back Colton Brusven in making a dynamic one-two punch in the backfield. Brusven rushed 36 times for 256 yards and three scores to lead the way for Tongie offensively.
The Chieftains only trailed 14-13 with just over a minute to play in the first half, but the deficit quickly bloomed to 15 thanks to the big playmaking ability of Brant Wilson. The Basehor-Linwood senior corralled a 64-yard touchdown pass from VanDonge in the final minute of the first half and then returned the opening kickoff of the second half 95 yards for a touchdown.
Still, Tongie wasn’t about to go quietly. The Chieftains put together back-to-back touchdown drives that ended on runs by Pankey and Brusven and converted a two-point conversion to tie it up at 28-28.
VanDonge helped the Bobcats retake the lead after finding pay dirt on a 16-yard run, but Basehor-Linwood missed the extra point. Tongie went on to take its first and only lead at 35-34 following a pick six by Isaiah Holthaus with 9:59 remaining.
While Basehor-Linwood running back Jekai Harris willed the Bobcats to victory with touchdown runs on back-to-back possessions to give his team a 47-35 lead with 3:15 to go, Tongie still had one final push. Carlton connected with Holthaus for a 33-yard touchdown pass with two minutes remaining, but Basehor-Linwood was able to run out the clock from there.
“It was a lot of fun,” Troyer said following the game. “It was just a great experience. I just loved watching the kids battle and keep fighting. I’m excited for the rest of the season.”
Tongie and Basehor-Linwood should both be fun teams to watch this season if Friday’s season opener was any indication. With coaches like Troyer and Stallbaumer at the helm, the future of both programs are bright no matter what the roster complexion looks like.