By RICK PETERSON
Aside from winning a second straight Centennial League title, Washburn Rural's goals for the 2022 football season are still in play.
But Junior Blues veteran coach Steve Buhler knows some serious soul-searching will be order after Friday night's disappointing 24-6 Centennial League loss to Junction City at Bowen-Glaze Stadium.
Washburn Rural, which fell to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the league race, jumped out in front 6-0 with 3:01 left in the first quarter on a 15-yard touchown pass from Branton DeWeese to Amr Sabbarini (kick) blocked, but Junction City (4-1, 1-0) dominated the rest of the game, taking advantage of four Rural turnovers and several costly penalties to score the final 24 points.
"You just can't do the things we're doing right now against good football teams and expect to come out on top,'' Buhler said. "And I'll put the blame all on me. We've seen this for the last couple of weeks and we tried some things, but I've got to go home this weekend and look at it from a fresh perspective and figure out what I can do to help these guys during the week to get their heads were they need to be and quit making these mistakes.
"We've got to win these next three games to put ourselves in the best position possible going into the playoffs and when we hit that first week of the playoffs in Week 9, it's 0-0 and let's see if we've improved and we'll see who the better teams are at that point.''
Junction City, which won its fourth straight game since a season-opening loss to Hays, took the lead for good on an 18-yard TD pass from Xavion Felton to Shelton Butler-Lawson with 10:53 left in the opening half and Aidan Field tacked on the extra point to put the Blue Jays in front, 7-6.
It was still a one-point game at the half, but Junction City got a second chance after a Rural penalty on fourth down and capped an 8-yard scoring drive with a 4-yard Felton scoring run (Field kick) to take a 14-6 lead at the 6:43 mark of the third quarter.
Two plays into the fourth quarter the Blue Jays made it a 21-6 game with a 24-yard TD pass from Felton to Butler-Lawson (Field kick) and Field hit a 33-yard field goal to account for the final score 2:46 left.
"I'm very proud of our kids and just the turnaround that we've made,'' Junction City coach Randall Zimmerman said. "I just can't say enough good things about our kids.''
Senior Ma'kenttis Adams rushed for 102 yards on 15 attempts and DeWeese passed for 122 yards, but Rural had difficulty gaining an offensive foothold in the second half.
Felton passed for 113 yards and the two TDs and combined with Logan Nabus for 133 rushing yards.
Washburn Rural will travel to Hummer Sports Park to face Topeka High next Friday while Junction City will be at home to host Manhattan in a key Centennial League contest.
JUNCTION CITY 24, WASHBURN RURAL 6
Junction City (4-1, 1-0) 0 7 7 10 -- 24
Washburn Rural (3-2, 0-2) 6 0 0 0 -- 6
Washburn Rural -- Sabbarini 15 pass (kick blocked)
Junction City -- Butler-Lawson 18 pass from Felton (Field kick)
Junction City -- Felton 4 run (Field kick)
Junction City -- Butler-Lawson 24 pass from Felton (Field kick)
Junction City -- Field 33 FG
Rushing -- Junction City: Nabus 23-71, Felton 23-62, Bohanan 1-6, Smith 1-(minus)-6, Williams 3-(minus)-4, Team 3-(minus)-6. Washburn Rural: Adams 15-102, Minikwu 6-29, DeWeese 8-14.
Passing -- Junction City: Felton 8-14-0, 113 yards. Washburn Rural: DeWeese 11-18-2, 122; Rea 1-1-0. 5.
Receiving -- Junction City: Byers 4-57, Lawson 3-54, Autry 1-2. Washburn Rural: Osborn 3-24, Smoot 2-38, Sabbarini 2-21, Hanks 2-15, Hayes 1-13, Adams 1-1.