The excitement is almost tangible in St. John as the high school football team is about to take a stab at an Eight-Man Division-I state playoff run.
The Tigers (8-1) host Pretty Prairie (7-2) tonight in bi-district action, starting at 7.
“Everybody seems to be excited,” St. John head coach Nick Garcia said. “Everyone I’ve seen, and remember this is a pretty small town, has said that they’ll be there. Even some that might have been to a game, or at least didn’t make it to every game this season, have said they’d be there, so we’re expecting a big turnout.”
The excitement has hit the players as well. It has been five years since St. John has advanced to the playoffs after winning a district title in 2007, so tonight’s matchup will be the first time these players have suited up for a high school postseason game.
“They’re pretty enthusiastic,” Garcia said. “They are definitely ready to go. I told them that this is pretty special. There’s only 16 teams left (in D-I). There are a lot of players turning in equipment this week that would like to be playing. Last year, we were one of those teams.”
So what has Garcia done to get his team focused?
“We’ve been watching a lot of film,” Garcia said. “A lot of chalk talk, too. We chalk it. Then we walk it and run it. We’ve been working to get better at coming up and making tackles.”
Offensively, the Tigers have a lot of weapons.
Junior tailback Schuyler Brown has rushed for 1,213 yards and 10 touchdowns on 192 carries this season.
Senior quarterback Spencer Nusser has spread the ball around, completing 82 of 151 passes for 1,239 yards and 21 TDs.
Dean Wade, a 6-foot-7 sophomore tight end, is the leading receiver with 468 yards and nine touchdowns.
Zuriel Reyes, who started the season late due to an injury, has 438 receiving yards and seven scores.
Pretty Prairie has two losses this season — one against undefeated D-II team B&B Baileyville (52-8), and the other against Solomon (20-18) to end the regular season.
The Bulldogs average 41.1 points per game, while allowing 19.1.
Garcia said that the toughness of St. John’s regular-season schedule should help prepare it for the next level.
“We’ve played some good teams,” Garcia said. “We started the season against Otis-Bison and Victoria. They’re both in the (D-II) playoffs. Fairfield and Kiowa County were both pretty good teams.”
Garcia said his team will be ready for the challenge.
“I haven’t seen this excitement with this group of guys before,” Garcia said. “Plus, we’re playing at home. We’ll have our fans here, so this place will be electric.
“The boys have been talking a lot about defending our home turf. We’re undefeated at home this year. We’re 4-0 at home. Hopefully, we’ll be 5-0.”