The end of the regular season came as a surprise to the members of the Junction City High School football team Thursday when they were notified of a COVID-19 positive student at Topeka Highland Park which forced the cancellation of the final game.
“We're very, very excited about that, I guess,” coach Randall Zimmerman said. “And I really liked our chances with our kids, but it's kind of stinks to have to the end of the season like that where, you know, had to suspend a game. But, very fortunate to be able to get seven of our regular season games in and now it's on to playoffs. So, that's where our focus will be.”
With the seven games completed, the Blue Jays finished 6-1 with their only loss coming in week one against Bishop Carrol. The team won out from there, defeating other Centennial League rivals in their way earning them the 2020 Centennial League Football Championship outright.
“It feels great, I mean, it really does for these kids,” Zimmerman said. “Our kids work so hard and you want them to be able to take that away from them. But, they're not satisfied with that. We're gonna keep pressing forward and continue to look at, you know, what's next.”
When interviewed Thursday night after a short practice, Zimmerman was unaware of who he would be playing as the Kansas State Activities Association planned on releasing the Class 6A tournament bracket Saturday morning. At that time, he and his coaching staff had a good idea of who they would be playing — but prepped for other teams as well, Zimmerman said.
“We have a very good idea what it's gonna be but ... don't know for sure,” he said. “So, you know, we started prepping a little bit tonight and we'll prep tomorrow for what we anticipate to be next Friday. And then, you know, if it changes on Saturday morning, then we'll deal with it if it changes.”
When the brackets were released, it was revealed that Junction City earned the number two seed behind Lawrence (7-0), and will host the first round against Lawrence Free State (0-5) next Friday at Al Simpler Stadium.
If the Blue Jays continue their successful season into the postseason, they will host the winner of Wichita West versus Washburn Rural on Nov. 6.
There is a chance, based on the brackets, Junction City could host Manhattan in the third round with the winner moving on to the semifinal game Nov. 20. Manhattan would have to defeat Garden City (3-5) and the winner of Wichita East (5-1) versus Haysville-Campus (1-5) for that rivalry to move into the post season.
While the team was disappointed in not getting to play Thursday, they used their time wisely, Zimmerman said.
“Our kids handled it pretty well,” he said. “I mean they were really disappointed. They wanted to go down there. And, you know, anytime you take a game away from kids that work so hard, prepare so well and do ... they're doing everything we asked them to do to keep each other safe and those kind of things. It's just tough, but they handled it really well. We had a quick little scouting report, watched a little bit of film on our anticipated, upcoming opponents and then came out and did a walkthrough and got them back inside. So, you know, it's still a good day. It's a good day anytime we around young kids with that kind of energy and the kind of want to that they have.”
Kick off is slated for 7 p.m. Friday.