By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
For a year now, Vian knew this day would come.
It was almost a year ago to the day that the Wolverines walked off the field at Hennessey’s Eagle Stadium with their first loss in 13 games, coming in a Class 2A quarterfinal. All but one of their starters would be back. The nucleus of a two-time state championship team would also return for the team that ended their season with the 18-7 loss
The way the bracket shaped up, the two champions of districts 2A-1 and 2A-6 would meet again at the quarterfinal crossroads this year.
That day will arrive today.
Vian again totes a 12-0 record; Hennessey, 10-2. The Wolverines will enter the contest having scored points at a 64-point clip. Last year, it was 53.
The one noticeable difference? This game will be at Vian’s St. John Stadium, where Vian hasn’t lost since a 23-8 setback in a first-round loss to Morris in 2010 when almost all of the Wolverines starters were this year’s seniors. Meanwhile, Hennessey was just embarking on its current run as the best in 2A.
Vian walked away from last year’s loss with some lessons learned.
“That game is one reason we’re running the spread,” Wolverines coach Brandon Tyler said. “We realized after that game we needed to throw and draw people out of the box.”
Quarterback Landon Decker, who was coming off a concussion suffered in the first-round playoff win against Meeker last year, ran for 121 yards on 19 carries but was 2-of-8 passing for 17 yards. He led his team on a 67-yard touchdown drive to start the game, then got bogged down to the point where all that Vian would manage in the second half was 61 yards of offense in what became a rainy night.
“It seemed like they had a defense lined up for every play we ran,” Decker recalled this week.
Hennessey coach Rick Luetjen, who spent three years at Stigler (2004-06), credited the turn with adjustments his team made after the first drive.
“I’m sure this will be a game of adjustments, including what we do at the half,” he said.
“We know they’ve got a heck of a team. We knew that last year with the youth they had that they would be a good team this year and they’ve proven that. We figured too that this time around we’d be coming out to their place and I know from having coached (at Stigler) that that’s a tough place to play.”
To get ready for this day, Decker began working with Wolverines offensive coordinator Ron Winans on becoming a better passer in the off-season.
“I’d stay after summer pride twice a week and just threw the ball,” he said. “Just throwing more and more has helped. That, and applying game situations has been the main things that have helped me.”
Decker has thrown for 687 yards on 35-of-53 passing compared to last season’s 716 yards on 28-of-60. The deception in those numbers is that he’s played little more than a half of football in each game and hasn’t taken a snap in the fourth quarter yet.
While Hennessey was hit harder by graduation last season, much of the returning experience is up front.
“They’ve got a lot of confidence in their front four,” Tyler said. “They don’t bring their linebackers or blitz much at all and there’s really no one they’ve played that has blown those guys off the line. They’re also maybe a little bigger than we are.”
While giving Vian credit for their mother lode of experience, Luetjen said the benefit from practicing for five extra weeks among his backups the past two years has more than made up for the lack of any perceived experience.
“They’ve gotten better at a little faster rate thanks to all those reps. It’s just like the advantage the college teams get with a bowl season. That’s about 3-4 weeks of work they wouldn’t otherwise get.”
Not to mention the understanding of expectations that comes from building on the legacy of those who came before you.
“After we won it three years ago, we told the new group that was their legacy. Now it’s time to go build theirs,” Luetjen said. “Even though they were around for those other two, this is the one they can call their own championship. I think there would be a great deal of disappointment within this group if they don’t achieve that.”
Vian’s senior-laden squad wants to be the reason for the disappointment.
“We talked about this after practice on Monday,” Decker said. “We’ve knew this game was kind of our destiny. I think it will be a fun game.”
He just hopes it isn’t their last one.