ALTAMONT — With Labette County still down a slew of starters who are quarantined due to COVID-19 contact tracing, the Grizzlies will need a special effort in Friday’s KSHSAA 4A playoff opener at Tonganoxie.

Labette County is the No. 14 seed in the 4A East while Tonganoxie is the No. 3 seed. 

Labette County fell to Chanute at home 14-6 last week, dropping its record to 2-6 as the Grizzlies reshuffled its lineup.

“Our nine sophomores that were forced to play did a really good job last Friday night,” Labette County head coach Sean Price said. “We competed and could have won a game. It is what it is, losing the other kids, but I thought we performed really well.” 

This will be the first time in three years that Labette County hasn’t faced Bishop Miege, the private school powerhouse in the classification, in the first round of the playoffs. That honor goes to Chanute.

But with Tonganoxie sitting at 7-1 on the season, they present a brutal challenge themselves.

“Yeah, good luck to Chanute,” Price said. “Tonganoxie has two top kids for them though, so it doesn’t feel like much of a difference.” 

The engine that makes Tonganoxie go is running back Tyler Bowden, who’s amassed 2,020 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns on 236 carries — an 8.6 yards per carry average.

“You just try to contain that engine,” Price said. “He’s a great player and we’ve got to do a good job of keeping him as contained as we can.” 

Tonganoxie isn’t afraid to air it out as senior quarterback Blake Poje has 1,160 yards and 14 touchdowns passing.

“I hope they have to pass the ball,” Price said. “That means we’ve done a good job stopping the best running back in the state. That’s a chance we’ll take.” 

With Labette County’s roster gutted, Price admits that an offense that has struggled to put up points is still trying to develop.

“We’re about as base as we can get right now,” Price said. “Run game, we’re OK there. But passing game, we’re pretty vanilla right now.” 

Perhaps the best blessing for Labette County? The Grizzlies are playing their ninth game, something 16 Class 4A schools in Kansas can’t say.

“We feel like we’re blessed we’re still playing,” Price said. “I would’ve lost that bet if you said we were going to get to play nine games. I would’ve never guessed that. Our school has done such a good job with all the COVID-19 stuff. We’re lucky to get to play this many games.” 

Price hopes Labette County can bring a playoff attitude to Friday’s tilt at Tonganoxie.

“We want to go play tough-nosed football,” Price said. “I think we’ll hang in the game. We’ve done a good job against the run this year. I think our kids will rise up and play hard.” 

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