By RICK PETERSON
After a string of tough tests, including back to back games against perennial Class 6A powers Manhattan and Junction City, Washburn Rural entered Friday's Senior Night game against Topeka High as a big favorite.
And the Junior Blues lived up to that billing, opening up a 41-0 lead on the way to a 48-15 Centennial League victory at Bowen-Glaze Stadium.
With Friday's victory Washburn Rural improved to a perfect 6-0 on the season while clinching at least a share of the Centennial title with its third straight league win.
"I was happy with the effort and the focus from the week coming into the game,'' Washburn Rural coach Steve Buhler said. "I was a little nervous about a little hangover from the last two weeks but I thought our guys did a really nice job of preparing this week.
"The coaches gave them a good game plan and they came out and played well.''
Topeka HIgh came up with a goal-line stand on Washburn Rural's first possession of the game, throwing Lafayette Thompson for a 2-yard loss on a 4th and 1 play just outside the goal line.
But after a Topeka High miscue in punt formation gave Rural the ball at the Trojan 9, senior JC Heim gained 8 yards to the 1 and then scored to put Rural up to stay (Wilson Miller kick) with 4:16 left in the opening quarter.
Five plays later Washburn Rural was back in the end zone, with junior King Leonard picking off a Zane Smith pass and returning it 47 yards for a pick six with 2:23 left in the first (Miller kick).
The Junior Blues tacked on three more TDs in the second quarter, all on Branton DeWeese touchdown passes, to take a commanding 34-0 lead at the half.
DeWeese hit Calvin Hayes for a 14-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter (kick blocked), DeWeese hit Titan Osburn for a 65-yard score (Miller kick) and DeWeese connected with Blake Recinos for a 15-yard TD (Ryan Austin kick).
The Junior Blues scored on their first drive of the second half, getting a 5-yard run from JC Heim (Austin kick) to open up a 41-0 advantage with 9:44 left in the third before Topeka High got on the board on the first play of the fourth quarter with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Isaiah Kincade (Jayden Norman kick).
Rural scored its final touchdown on a 15-yard pass from John Hoytal to Blake Recinos (Austin kick) before Topeka High scored midway through the fourth on a 45-yard Kincade run (Norman 2-point conversion).
Although Washburn Rural was in control throughout the game, Buhler gave the 1-5 Trojans credit for the way they kept fighting.
"They've got a lot of pride in who they are,'' Buhler said. "They've had a lot of success over the years and they're trying to get it back to that point. I think coach (Carlos) Kelly is doing a really good job with the young guys and bringing them along. They're getting better each week
"If you watch them on film they're getting better each week, and with a young group that's what you want to see.''
Kelly said he felt like the Trojans took some positive steps Friday while admitting that High still has a long way to go to get where they want to be..
"We are all trying but that magic sauce isn't there yet,'' Kelly said. "I think it's coming and we've got a core group. We've just got to find our footing and just get back to reality and work hard. Hard work works.''
Washburn Rural can wrap up the outright Centennial League championship next Friday at Emporia while Topeka High will host Junction City at Hummer Sports Park.
WASHBURN RURAL 48, TOPEKA HIGH 15
Topeka High (1-5, 1-2) 0 0 0 15 -- 15
Washburn Rural (6-0, 2-0) 14 20 7 7 -- 48
Washburn Rural -- JC Heim 1 run (Miller kick)
Washburn Rural -- Leonard 47 interception return (Miller kick)
Washburn Rural -- Hayes 14 pass from DeWeese (kick blocked)
Washburn Rural -- Osburn 65 pass from DeWeese (Miller kick)
Washburn Rural -- Recinos 15 pass from DeWeese (Austin kick)
Washburn Rural -- JC Heim 5 run (Austin kick)
Topeka High -- Kincade 6 pass from Smith (Norman kick)
Washburn Rural -- Recinos 15 pass from Hoytal (Austin kick)
Topeka High -- Kincade 45 run (Norman run)
Rushing -- Topeka HIgh: Ewing 28-57, Kincade 3-53, Smith 9-8, Team 3-(minus)-49. Washburn Rural: Bahm 9-39, Thompson 8-22, Ditch 5-26, DeWeese 4-26, JC Heim 3-14, Richard 1-3, Riescheck 1-1, Hoytal 2-(minus)-6.
Passing -- Topeka HIgh: Smith 11-24-1, 147 yards. Washburn Rural: DeWeese 14-22-0, 266; Hoytal 2-3-0, 20.
Receiving -- Topeka High: Kincade 4-37, Ewing 3-49, Norman 2-9, Dingle 1-32, Gardenhire 1-15. Washburn Rural: Osburn 5-116, Thompson 2-58, Hayes 2-53, Recinos 2-30, Roth 2-10, Jordy Heim 1-10, Huddleston 1-5, Bahm 1-4. .
Punting -- Topeka High: Norman 3-21.0; Smith 2-26.0. Washburn Rural: Austin 1-38.0.