By CONOR NICHOLL
HILL CITY – Two plays in Friday’s semifinal illustrated Leoti-Wichita County’s explosive offense that could break the eight-man single season scoring record.
On a frigid night where the temperatures dipped under 20, WC led Hill City by a score midway through the first quarter in the Eight-Man, Division I state semifinals. The Indians faced third-and-1 from its own 35-yard line.
Hill City’s offensive line includes 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior guard Christopher Michel. He had one career catch, a two-yard reception against Hoxie on Sept. 16. In eight-man football, guards are eligible for a pass if no other offensive player is on the other side.
Like tackle-eligible plays in NFL football, it’s a play that rarely occurs, and even more unique away from the goal line.
Wichita County lined up with Michel as a guard-eligible receiver. Michel went down the field and was open.
“It’s kind of nice to show some motions and show some different actions and get those guys a little love, and it’s hard for a defense to keep track of all that,” WC coach Brant Douglas said.
WC standout senior quarterback Erhik Hermosillo found him on a perfect 36-yard reception.
“The protection up front and having time back there just to throw it deep to Chris,” Hermosillo said.
“We were running it in practice, and when the time came, I was ready,” Michel added.
Three plays and a penalty later, Wichita County faced 4th-and-goal from the Hill City 11-yard line. WC junior Colton Harbin, in his first full season as a varsity player, had a 1-on-1 matchup with Hill City senior Kaleb Atkins, a likely first team all-state player.
Hermosillo rifled a perfect line drive pass to Michel. Atkins thought he had a hand on the ball and was visibly frustrated after the play. WC scored for a 20-6 lead.
Behind a big third quarter, Wichita County pulled away for a 76-30 win. The contest ended via the mercy rule in the initial seconds of the fourth quarter on a touchdown run by sophomore Khris Hermosillo.
HC coach Travis Desbien labeled Wichita County a “complete team.” Wichita County improved to 12-0 and qualified for the state championship game for the second time in three years. In 2020, the program’s first-ever state game appearance, the Indians lost 70-58 to Little River in the highest scoring eight-man title in state history.
“They got us a few times over the top with that play action and misdirection and motion,” Desbien said.
No. 1 Wichita County will face No. 2 Little River (11-1) on Saturday at Newton’s Fischer Field in a 2020 rematch. Start time is 3:30 p.m.
“It snowballs kind of like it did for us tonight,” Desbien said. “They are so good, they are going to capitalize on you and in a blink of an eye, that one score game can turn into a three, four, five score game in a matter of minutes. They are so good, that you can’t really have any mistakes to beat this team.”
Wichita County averages 9.96 yards per play. Opponents have struggled to keep up with the Indians for more than a half. In Week 3, Wichita County led 22-14 at intermission versus Hoxie. The Indians won 56-28.
“We are the confident team in the second half, and we are just all energized, all of us, from bottom to top,” Erhik said.
In Week 6, WC ended defending state champion Meade’s 20-game winning streak. The Indians were up 20-14 at halftime – and won 56-20. In the Round of 16, Wichita County rematched with Hoxie. A 30-12 halftime score became a 64-20 victory. In the quarterfinals, WC pulled away from Atwood.
Versus Hill City, Wichita County led 48-30 at halftime before 28 straight after the break.
“We had it close there for awhile, and other teams have, too, throughout the season,” Desbien said.
WC recovered an onside kick and forced multiple turnovers, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown from junior Wyatt Gardner.
“Our guys just are extremely conditioned and really love the game of football, because if you don’t love the game, tonight is not a very fun night,” Douglas said in the sub-freezing temperatures. “So it’s just we seem to be a second half team, and our guys come out with a lot of energy and effort and understand that second half is time to really take over and put this game away, and they did that tonight.”
Wichita County has led eight-man in scoring offense per game since coach Douglas took over the program five years ago. The Indians have collectively scored 55.8 points a game under Douglas. In the state runner-up season, the Indians tallied 58 points per contest and scored 754 points. That’s 10 off the state record of 764 set by Osborne in 2016.
“They play with tempo, so even when they are running the ball, the clock doesn’t move very much,” Desbien said. “And then when they do pass the ball occasionally, it stops, so you get a tremendous amount of plays playing a Leoti team, and they don’t play a lot of full games, so it’s hard to get your breath sometimes.”
Wichita County has terrific skill players, especially with Erhik Hermosillo, the only starter left from the 2020 state runner-up squad. He started on defense as a sophomore and has exceeded 3,000 total yards at quarterback in the last two years. This fall, he has 1,851 rushing and 1,249 passing with 61 TDs accounted for.
However, the Indians have incorporated multiple first-year starters. Khris Hermosillo, known for his bowling ball-esque physical running ability, has 117 carries for 1,149 yards and 23 touchdowns. A first-year offensive starter, Khris was on the SIK midseason All-Underrated team.
“It’s incredible,” Erhik said of his brother. “He’s a work horse, power back, he really likes to smash the ball and likes to run over people.”
Gardner has elevated his play with 12 offensive scores. Harbin, little-used in previous seasons, has 23 catches for 473 yards and six TDs.
“Coach Douglas does a great job with play design,” Desbien said. “It’s a lot of what I call eye candy. I try to do some stuff similar to that with our guys, too. You show motion and play action one way, and you try to get kids tricked and get their eyes off of where you are wanting to get the ball to.”
The scoring defense averages have gone from 17.6 to 29.7 to 13.2 to 38.1 to 10.3 this season. WC has significantly focused on defense and developed the “Land Shark” mentality. Wichita County learned the Land Shark from 5A Mill Valley defensive coordinator Drew Hudgins at the KSHSAA coaching clinic last summer. Haydon Parks is Douglas’ veteran strength and conditioning coach and defensive coordinator.
“It just gives your defense an identity, so it’s nice to have, especially when our offense does as well as it does,” Douglas said.
Senior Cordell Brown has 74 tackles, 12 for loss. Michel is at 64 tackles, 11.5 for loss. Khris Hermosillo has 47 stops, 15 for loss.
“We wanted to make defense a big point on our team,” Michel said. “And wanted to focus on defense this year, we have the offense to back it up, and if we have a good defense, we are going to be a really scary team.”