By TYLER HENRY
Salina Post contributor
On Friday night, a new chapter will be written in the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi, as a reinvigorated Abilene Cowboys squad (2-1) prepares to host their cross-county rivals from Chapman (1-2).
The local fanfare for this game in Dickinson County is second to none for a series that saw its first game kick off in 1892 during the presidential administration of Grover Cleveland.
“This game always means a lot to both of these programs,” Abilene head coach Brad Nicks said. “You can throw a rock over to Chapman from our place and this is the game that everyone in our school and our town has circled on the calendar.”
For the last four years, this rivalry has been owned by the Irish, who haven’t been truly tested since 2017, winning a class's worth of games by a combined score of 164-42.
While Abilene has much to prove, the Cowboys will enter this contest as slight favorites after snapping a 1,400+ day, three-season long losing streak en route to a 2-0 start.
“They’re tremendously athletic and they have a quarterback who can really throw it,” Chapman head coach Kurt Webster said. “They have a hard-running, shifty back and their defense is much improved in every facet. It’s no surprise that they’ve had the success that they’ve had this year.”
On the Irish side of things, Chapman will look to keep putting the pieces together after a rough 0-2 start but will have an increasingly healthy roster and a 22-9 week-three win over Marysville to build on.
“That first win felt good,” Webster said. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity early in the season but it was good to finally have everybody healthy and to put it all together on a Friday night.”
Regardless of what the records might indicate, both teams know that come kickoff under the lights, anything can happen, and neither will let any of the pregame narratives or noise impact their focus.
“I don’t know that this year’s matchup feels any different to us,” Nicks said. “Coach Webster does a great job with those kids and they’re getting some momentum going. Like any other rivalry you throw the records out and you prepare your guys for a dogfight.”
In order to have success against the Irish, Abilene will need to find a way to contain junior running back Aiden Whitley, who has averaged 6.5 yards per rush this season despite a tough early season slate.
While Whitley has carried the load thus far, Chapman is fully prepared for the creative Cowboy defense to force someone else to step up in the crucible of this area rivalry matchup.
“They’ve done unique things in the past to try and take away our best offensive personnel,” Webster said. “It’s probably going to take someone new stepping up as we establish our identity as a running team.”
On the Abilene side of things, the biggest challenge will be finding ways to fight through a pair of veteran-heavy groups in the Chapman trenches.
“They bring back all of their linemen from last year and I think they would say they hang their hats on those big, strong, physical fronts,” Nicks said. “We’re going to have to match their size and their physicality to get our kids the ball in space.”
With the momentum of two early season wins and a team hungry to repay four years of rivalry losses, the air around Abilene should be electric on Friday night, as the Irish look for a fifth straight win in enemy territory.
“The atmosphere of Chapman Abilene is always outstanding and their stadium is as nice as you’ll see in the state of Kansas,” Webster said. “We’re excited to go over and play in that environment and we’ve been good in the past at blocking out all the noise and confusion that comes with this matchup.”
Kickoff between the Cowboys and Irish is set for 7 pm at Abilene Stadium, for continuing coverage of both teams throughout the 2022 season stay tuned to the Salina Post.