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Tears of joy: 6-man Kansas football team wins first game in 1,107 days

Wichita eagle logo Wichita eagle 9/13/2020 By Hayden Barber, The Wichita Eagle

Senior Will McMurry let the tears go while coach C.T. Young held them back and junior Austin Lazenby just needed time to himself in the end zone.

Each player digested the stomach-turning relief felt Friday night a little differently from the next. More than 1,000 days had passed since the Burrton Chargers felt what they felt. In fact, no one on the 2020 roster could even remember the elation of winning.

So when Burrton beat Fowler 71-34 on homecoming night, it felt like a state championship.

Since their most recent victory Sept. 1, 2017, the Chargers had been outscored 1,383-338, had to forfeit three times and struggled so mightily with participation and enrollment that they dropped from 8-man to 6-man football. The fans stopped bringing their cannon to every game to fire off after every Charger touchdown, but it was back Friday.

“It helps everyone know that we’re not going to lose every single game,” junior quarterback Leif Hernandez said. “We have more to come. This helps everyone get more spiritual about what’s to come.”

Since the 2015 season opener, Burrton was 1-44 entering its game against Fowler. The Chargers are still getting used to life in 6-man football, which Young called “a completely different game.”

That is no exaggeration.

In 2019, Kansas saw 6-man scores reach 133 and 142 points. Teams scored 70 points with regularity, but for Burrton, its 71-point toal against Fowler was believed to be the most points the team had scored since 1996.

With so few players on the field in a 6-man game, injuries can be magnified, roster size is a game-changer and speed can mean championships.

Here are some of the biggest differences between 6-man and 11-man football:

80-yard field (20 yards shorter than a regulation 11-man field)

15 yards for a first down (5 yards farther than 11-man)

All offensive players are eligible to catch passes (including the center)

No player can cross the line of scrimmage with the ball unless another player pitches the ball to him (including the quarterback)

Field goals are worth 4 points (one more than in 11-man)

Kicked point-after attempts are worth 2 points, or 1 point if the ball is run or passed into the end zone (opposite of 11-man)

Games are declared over if a team trails by at least 45 points at any time in the second half (first half must be played)

Another rule, as Fowler showed Friday night: If a team cannot put six players on the field, it will play with five. The Goldbugs brought only six players on the bus. There were no players on the sideline alongside coach Boyd Peterson until junior Charlie Littlewood was forced out for a time with an injury.

On the other sideline, Young and the rest of the Chargers are still getting used to these rules — their new normal.

“It’s harder than it looks,” Hernandez said. “6-man is a whole new game. It’s new to us. It’s new to everyone. Last week, we didn’t know what to expect.”

There is a reason for the downshift to 6-man football in Burrton. The Chargers haven’t had a winning season since the early 2000s. In fact, since 2006, they haven’t won more than three games in any season and have gone winless six times.

With so many years of losing football teams, participation has dwindled, Young said. Few athletes want to play knowing there is a decent chance they won’t win a game despite months of work. Mondays in school can bring questions of, “When are you going to get a win?”

The 2020 Chargers deserve praise ... and have Young’s respect.

“It’s tough,” Hernandez said. “I was used to losing. ... I just love the game. I love everything about it. I love the program. Playing this game, it fills me.”

Young is in his second season at Burrton after a playing career at Pratt-Skyline and coaching at Pretty Prairie, where he went 101-43 in 15 seasons. In 2009 and 2010, his teams went a combined 21-2. He said one thing will bring players back to the program.

“Success,” Young said. “If you win, everyone wants to be a part of it, and they will matriculate to you. If you’re not winning, no one wants to be associated with you. The lack of success has more to do with our numbers than the number of boys we have in school.”

Of course, that has been hard as the weeks without a win turned into months, and those months turned into entire seasons. Pressure had mounted, and that affected how the players prepared during the week and played on Fridays, Young said.

In the final game of the season in 2019, Burrton lost to Chase 40-28. It was the Chargers’ closest game in more than a year. A week later, they forfeited against the same opponent.

The importance of games had grown each week.

“We really need (a win) just for morale purposes,” Young said. “We have 11 kids out. Four of those 11 are freshmen. One of those freshmen has never played before.

“I don’t know if I can even put into words what it would mean for them. I think it would be a huge relief more than anything. Step off that field knowing that you had a victory and not having to hear those questions. ... And they could just be kids again having fun, playing the game of football.”

The Chargers have two seniors on their 2020 roster. On Friday, McMurry and Kyler Matlack were part of the school’s first win since they were freshmen. With the COVID-19 pandemic afoot, there are no promises they will play again.

Buhler, located 15 minutes from Burrton, had to cancel its Week 2 game Friday afternoon when it learned its opponent had tested positive for the coronavirus. Games can be taken away that quickly, and Young addressed this ongoing uncertainty with his team before the game.

“This is your opportunity,” he said. “Play this game like it’s your last. Play every play like it’s your last. Leave it all out there on the field. Do what you can do. Do what you are capable of doing, and the scoreboard will take care of itself.”

Burrton stopped Fowler on its opening drive at the Burrton 11-yard line. Then Burrton junior running back Gabe Perkins broke loose for 50 yards down the left sideline. He scored a few more times, Lazenby added several more scores, and freshman Jude Barnes ended the night with a 79-yard sprint — the longest possible play in 6-man football.

It was a night the town needed.

“Any good news, we will take,” superintendent Joan Simoneau said. “You can hear it from the townspeople.”

The final whistle was the best news on the school’s football field in 1,107 days. When the clock hit zeros, Matlack ran out and hugged McMurry, his fellow senior. Perkins waved over the rest of the team, encouraging the other players to join the celebration.

And then, much like state championship teams do after their final win of the season, the Burrton Chargers took a team photo.

“When that horn sounded, tears were flowing — just happiness,” Young said. “They deserve it. The town deserves it. The school deserves it. But those kids, they deserve it.”

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©2020 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)

Visit The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.) at www.kansas.com

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