It was only one half of one Class 6A playoff game, but Topeka High coach Walt Alexander believes that one half at Derby can help his Trojan program as it continues to try to cement its place among the state’s elite football programs.
Playing the perennial state power in the 6A quarterfinals, Topeka High jumped on top 7-0 and led for the bulk of the first half before the Panthers rallied for a 10-7 halftime advantage.
Derby, which will play in its fourth straight state championship game Saturday, went on to take control in the second half for a 38-7 victory, but Alexander still feels good about what that experience could mean to his team.
“I think it’s a tremendous experience for our kids, to go over there in a hostile environment, to come out ready to play and, as (Derby coach) Brandon Clark said himself, we punched them right in the mouth, and they hadn’t been in that situation,’’ said Alexander, the city coach of the year for the second straight season.
“Derby hadn’t trailed all year and if you take a blocked field goal away we’re leading at halftime. It was a 10-7 game at halftime and we competed, but Derby did what Derby does and they got on a roll and you have to give them all the credit in the world. They’re a very good football team.’’
Alexander said Derby, which has won three state titles since 2013, has set the standard, both as a football team and a fan base that Topeka High wants to reach.
“You look at the Derby crowd and you look at the support they have and you look at the kind of kids they have and the way theY approach the game, everything about their program is phenomenal,'' Alexander said.
“That’s where we’re trying to get. I don’t know how long it will take, but we’re going to keep striving for that because we feel like our kids have done about everything we can do but get to that state title game.’’
Topeka High turned in another banner year, going 9-2 with its only regular-season loss a controversial 21-20 overtime loss to 6A semifinalist Manhattan.
The Trojans, who shared the Centennial League title, will return a strong group from that team, including two-time city offensive player of the year Ky Thomas and fellow All-City Top 11 pick Da’Vonshai Harden.
Alexander will be looking to take another step forward in 2019.
“We’re right there,’’ he said. “We have a good group coming back. Counting Ky and Da’Vonshai, who will go both ways next year, I think we’ve got six starters back on both sides.
“The kids know what it takes, they’ve been there and tasted it and we’ll be ready to go.’’