A year ago the Altoona-Midway High School football team ended a 28-game losing streak.
Now the Jets have snapped a playoff drought extending for two and a half decades.
For the first time in 26 years, Altoona-Midway is advancing to the Kansas State High School Football Playoffs.
The Jets punched their ticket to postseason play in thrilling fashion here Friday night, delighting the home fans by scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns to pull away for a 36-20 victory over Colony-Crest High School in an 8-man II, District 1 battle.
With the win, Altoona Midway moved to 2-6 overall on the season, but more importantly, 2-3 in district play. The Jets also finished 2-3 in Three Rivers League action, good enough for fourth place in the six-team eight-man division.
Altoona-Midway advances to meet the Waverly Bulldogs (7-1) in the first round of the KSHSAA 8-man II playoffs. The game will be played at 7 p.m. Thursday at Waverly.
“The kids were really excited about breaking that 26-year streak of not making the playoffs,” exclaimed AMHS Head Coach Joe Arell. “We kinda had our backs against the wall. Win and you’re in – lose and you’re done.”
Making sure the Jets were not done was a powerful ground game that piled up 330 yards on the evening.
Leading the way was Dayton Marsh, who rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. Clement Huffman added another two TDs and finished with eight carries for 70 yards.
Jimmy Willard picked up 70 yards on 11 totes, including a pair of two-point conversions, while Kendall Pierce accounted for another PAT and had 20 yards rushing on six attempts.
“Tonight we tried something different on offense and it mostly paid off. Our backfield put up some yards,” Arell said.
In the passing department, Caden Carter was 3-for-7 for 19 yards and Jackson Ashmore connected on his only attempt for another 20 yards. Pierce had two receptions for 27 yards, Willard and Huffman one each for 12 and 5 yards, respectively.
After a scoreless first period, Altoona-Midway took a 14-6 lead into intermission against Colony-Crest. Each team added a score in the third period to make it 22-14, but a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns by Huffman and Marsh sealed the deal for the Jets.
Defensively, Marsh had 12 tackles, Pierce 10, Willard nine and Zack Sade seven. Sade notched a pair of quarterback sacks while Willard and Marsh added one sack each. Huffman also came up with a recovery on an on-side kick.
About the only negative came in the turnover department, where the Jets fumbled five times, losing all of them.
“Well, we didn’t play our best tonight, but we got the win and we’re moving on the playoffs,” Arell said. “We just really need to clean things up and get ready for next week.”
The last time Altoona-Midway made the playoffs was 1992, when they finished the regular season 7-1. That year the Jets defeated Pleasanton 38-16 and Norwich 25-24 to advance to the third round of the playoffs, where they were scuttled by Pretty Prairie 72-22 and finished 9-2. It remains the most wins in a single season for AMHS.
It was actually the last in a string of three consecutive playoff appearances by the Jets under head coach Eric Larson. AMHS lost first-round playoff games in both 1990 and 1991 and finished 8-2 and 6-3 respectively.
Altoona-Midway officials are hoping for a large contingent of fans to make the trek to Waverly to support the Jets’ first playoff appearance in 26 years.
Waverly is in the playoffs for the third straight year under coach Mike Hevel. The Bulldogs lost in the opening round of postseason play each of the past two seasons.
Colony-Crest fell to 0-8 on the season. The Lancers will travel to Marais des Cygnes Valley for a non-playoff bracket game to close out their season Friday.
In other playoff matchups Friday involving 8-man II teams from the Three Rivers League, St. Paul (7-1) will play host to Hartford (3-5); and Marmaton Valley (3-5) hits the road to race Centre-Lost Springs (6-2).