The Abilene Cowboy football team ended their 2018 campaign with a 4-5 record and a .500 regular season win percentage. Despite the rough record and even rougher performances at home (the Cowboys only won one home contest, late in the season against Ulysses for the first time), most Cowboy players saw it as a somewhat successful season considering their 2-7 record the season previous. The Cowboys finished the season just 1-2 in league play, winning handily against an overmatched Clay Center team before dropping consecutive home losses to the Concordia Panthers and Chapman Fighting Irish.
“I definitely had fun (this season).” Senior defensive back Zach Schultze was quoted as saying following the playoff loss to Ulysses.
Following is a brief recap of each game of the Cowboys’ season, followed by a closing word.
August 31 – at Clay Center Tigers – win, 30-6
In what would provide hope for a season a few Cowboy fans had already written off before it began, the Cowboy offense would showcase how well it would work on the ground with all cylinders firing in their first game against the Tigers of Clay Center. With their last meeting an unfortunate trouncing of the Cowboys by the Tigers, revenge was the mindset and revenge was what was achieved. Senior James Mayden was the Swiss army knife for the offense, scoring five times with 352 all-purpose-yards on all kinds of scoring plays.
September 7 – versus Concordia Panthers – loss, 14-6
The home opener for the Cowboys went as well as it was clean. Consistent, weeklong rains had turned Paul Dennis Field into more of a swamp, and the effects were felt by the teams on both offense and defense. Possibly the most important aspect of the game was the loss of senior wideout Danny Espinoza, who suffered a severe leg injury while trying to navigate a screen play through the mud.
The game was scoreless into the second half, with both offenses being unable to do much in the mud, when the Panthers scored first on a long, drawn-out drive. The Cowboys regained some momentum when junior quarterback Jackson Randles took a run to the house a few minutes later, but it was not enough to break through the defense. The stout linemen of the Panthers harassed Randles all game, eliminating the possibility of much of a passing game and forcing the Cowboy running backs to slog through the muck in order to gain any yards at all. Needless to say, that was not the outcome that prevailed. Already demoralized by the loss of Espinoza, the team took another loss on their shoulders before they could move on to their resurgent rivals in Chapman.
September 14 – versus Chapman Irish – loss, 26-0
“Embarrassing.” The words of senior Cowboy fan Dawson Whalen following the game pretty much sum up how the rivalry game went.
Chapman’s triple option offense stymied the front seven of the Cowboys, leaving the safeties the last line of defense against their running backs and quarterback. James Mayden suffered a knee injury for the Cowboy offense and was forced to leave before the half, leaving senior running back Dakotah Whiteley in command of the running backs stable.
Nothing was working on either side of the ball. “We just didn’t have the right mindset coming in. We faced a really talented Chapman team that was probably more prepared to win than we were,” Mayden said following the game, which may be one of the last meetings between the historic rivals.
September 21 – at McPerson Bullpups – loss, 62-6
McPherson was easily the most daunting matchup on the schedule. The Bullpups have been a powerhouse for years and flexed their muscle against the Cowboys, who actually managed to find a chink in the armor of the to-be-undefeated Bullpups, but only after the team’s third team was slotted in against Abilene.
The Bullpups dominated every facet of the game, rolling on offense and kick returns and finalizing Cowboy offensive drives with exclamation points in the form of solid stops. They scored all of their points in the first half, leaving sophomore Caleb Burt to be the only one to find the end zone in the entire second half. There was little fanfare, however, as the Cowboys took their third straight loss in stride and prepared for an equally difficult trek to Pittsburg.
September 28 – St. Mary’s-Colgan of Pittsburg – won, 22-20
The unfortunate skid stopped with a particularly inspiring win over Pitt Colgan in neutral site action. Tawanda Circle’s stadium rocked with orange for the entire second half as comeback attempts were mounted and halted with equal amounts of stress.
Dakotah Whiteley found the end zone first in a nosedive, with senior tight end Preston Boyd catching the two point conversion to put the Cowboys up 2 after a failed conversion from Colgan. What happened following was a defensive slugfest. The first half belonged to the Cowboys, who put up a few more scores before the half ended.
The Panthers began a comeback in the final quarter, scoring two touchdowns with little time left. That was when Jackson Randles iced the game with a 19-yard strike to Boyd for six followed by two points on a James Mayden toss, leaving the Cowboys up by a touchdown. It stayed that way, and the Cowboys were able to leave with a 22-20 victory.
October 5 – at Field Kinley (Coffeyville) Golden Tornadoes – won, 30-25
Confidence mounted as the Cowboys began to gain a grip on their defense, earning a reputation as a “bend-don’t-break” defense capable of making big plays when they mattered, such as junior Chrisxavier Cease’s critical pass breakup late in the second half that slowed down the Tornadoes enough for the Cowboys to regain control of the momentum of the game and run the table. The fourth quarter alone featured a number of inspirational stops featuring players like Zach Schultze, Preston Boyd, and a fumble recovery courtesy of Kade Funston to ensure the Cowboys could kneel the clock away and leave Coffeyville with mounting confidence.
October 12 – versus Augusta Orioles – lost, 34-27
Homecoming was ruined by the Orioles.
High on the last few consecutive wins, the Cowboys entered their home game with a lot of momentum.
“(Winning)’s the plan.” Senior linebacker Gabe Prater noted before the game began. “The most important thing is keeping our heads on straight and not letting this streak die.”
The Orioles simply out-schemed the Cowboys, eking out a slight victory in the final minutes by just seven points. However, it might have been a winnable game for the Cowboys, as they put the football on the turf multiple times and gave possession back to the Orioles. Dakotah Whiteley burst through a hole on a kickoff for 84 yards and a touchdown early in the game, paired with another 46 yard run and one from within the five, as well as a 55 yard romp from James Mayden. However, offense anywhere in between was hard to come by. Frustration seemed to be the motif for the entirety of the game, as both players and coaches alike could not understand why so many small mistakes were being made in pivotal situations.
The Cowboys took a 27-14 lead in the third quarter, but that was the most points they would score. A few Cowboy penalties later, the Orioles were in the end zone. They repeated their trips a couple more times to finish the game up by a touchdown.
October 19 – versus Ulysses Tigers – won, 26-21
Backed up against the wall for tournament seeding, the Cowboys played a stressful game against the aerial attack of the Tigers that included multiple turnovers by both teams and second half opening kickoff returned for a touchdown by senior defensive back Zach Schultze. A hectic second half, combined with a last-minute Cowboy comeback, provided for one of the more meaningful Senior Nights in recent memory for Cowboy fans.
With three minutes left in the game, after a series of back-to-back-to-back turnovers, quarterback Jackson Randles rifled a shot to senior Chase Mason in the end zone for a score. That would put the Cowboys up 26-21, and it would stay that way for the rest of the game. Abilene turned the ball over a total of twelve times – Randles threw five interceptions against a vaunted Ulysses secondary – yet the game was finalized on a Chrisxavier Cease interception with less than a minute remaining in the game to ice the Tigers for a five point victory. 65 rushing yards and two touchdowns from James Mayden helped, as well as the demoralizing 90-yard kickoff return by Schultze – the only one on the season for the 2018 Cowboys.
The win allowed the Cowboys a home matchup in the playoffs, although unfortunately it ended up being a rematch against the Tigers for a second straight week.
Playoff – October 26 – versus Ulysses Tigers – lost, 28-0
The Cowboys were held scoreless as the scorned Tigers waltzed into Cowboy Stadium for the second straight week with a different game plan. Junior linebacker Zach Juhl missed a couple field goal attempts, but it would not amount to much even if they had gone through. A blanket coverage on the defensive line rendered the Cowboy run game ineffective. This meant the Cowboys were forced to play in a passing attack they were not suited for, losing the quick draw against the Tigers. Quarterback Jackson Randles injured his wrist during the game, disallowing the availability of any passing game and dooming the Cowboys to their final frustrating loss of the season.
The season was a mixture of highs and lows, even though it was an improvement on the season prior. Randles saw his first action as a starting quarterback following limited action in relief of Trevor Casteel last season. James Mayden continued his streak of terrorizing defenses, with multiple breakaway runs for more than thirty yards this season. He was assisted by two other seniors, Albert Cross and Dakotah Whiteley. All three mowed over defenses all season to create one of the most effective three-headed monsters in recent Cowboy history.
As far as receivers, seniors Dylan Scherbring and Javondre Flannery saw limited touches. Danny Espinoza only saw action in one full game before his injury. They and senior tight end Preston Boyd saw more action as members of the defense, though they did provide sparks on offense at times. Boyd tripled as the team’s punter, as well.
The lineman trio of seniors Eli Pitney, Josiah Schwarz and Logan Anguiano, as well as junior Kade Funston and sophomore Karsen Loader, saw action on both sides of the football. Senior linebacker Gabe Prater provided a force in the second level, and he was also helped out by fellow senior safety/moneybacker Zach Schultze. Junior Chrisxavier Cease and sophomore Caleb Burt brought extra help from their defensive back positions.
In all, the season checked a few boxes for the team and left about as many unchecked. Most of the players had never experienced a loss to Chapman, for example. “I would definitely have wanted to win that game,” junior backup quarterback Jayshaun Jones stated immediately following the game against the Irish. The same could be said for every Cowboy player after each loss this season had to give them.
That is not without hope for the future, however. Jackson Randles will return for his senior season at the quarterback position, followed by Caleb Becker, a tall and athletic quarterback who can provide a lot with his arm to compliment Randles’ legs. The loss of the three-headed backfield attack will be difficult to overcome, but sophomore Bode Strauss and junior linebacker Zach Juhl could provide a little bit of what Dominick Campbell and Parker Base provided in the backfield over the past few years, respectively. Caleb Burt and Chrisxavier Cease both return to fuel a secondary that will face the losses of Zach Schultze, Danny Espinoza, Javondre Flannery and Dylan Scherbring, and will also receive help from Strauss. Sophomore Robbie Keener can play a multitude of positions, but it is likely that he will slot in as an offensive lineman and linebacker next season. Karsen Loader and Kade Funston will be the only remaining stalwarts on the offensive line.
It is expected that the entire coaching staff will remain, disregarding any surprise retirement announcements. Despite the massive drop off in senior talent, the incoming class of football players will more than do their part to keep Abilene’s tradition of football excellence from going under. There is great hope in next year’s season.
Special thanks to Mr. Dave Linn, teacher at Abilene High School and member of Abilene’s chain gang, for graciously allowing the use of his photographs from this football season on a multitude of articles this year. They are very well done and added depth to our own football photos.