KREMMLING – For a 48-minute stretch on Saturday, Sedgwick County looked like the Cougars of old.

They took a three-touchdown lead in the blink of an eye and kept the pressure on as they rolled to a 56-26 win over West Grand in the first round of the 8-man football playoffs. As the No. 9 seed, they next face No. 1 Mancos which will be yet another test, but for at least one day this looked like the same program that rattled off six consecutive state championships from 2015-20.

“Last year we missed out on the playoffs and that always hurts,” Cougars coach Chris Michel said. “For those kids that were on that team last year, it kind of motivated them to get in the weight room and fix some things we did wrong last year. And any time you get on the bracket, you have to come in and play well.”

The Mustangs had been undefeated heading into the final week of the regular season but lost to Plateau Valley in Week 10. In the process, they suffered a bigger loss than the game. Juniors Jackson Steinle and Evan Crandall suffered injuries that ended their season and left a big gap at linebacker.

The Cougars had no problem exploiting the weakness. The first three touchdowns of the game came on two running scores from Jaxon Carlson and one from Brady Mollendor. Carlson’s second touchdown run was setup by a Mollendor interception, his first of two in the game.

“In the beginning we didn’t pick it up very well,” Mollendor said. “But we adjusted well and then the gaps started getting bigger and we hit the holes a lot better.”

Later in the first quarter, Carlson found Liam Buettenback for a 42-yard touchdown pass. The Cougars (6-4 overall) had a 28-0 lead before the Mustangs (8-2) found any kind of offensive rhythm.

“We came out fired up and I think that’s why we got off to such a hot start,” Carlson said. “We went up two scores and had a check in our brain that we needed one more. Coach always says it’s hard to come back from three scores down. I agree with that. We got up three and just had to finish the game out.”

West Grand got on the board with a touchdown pass from Blake Terryberry to Joe Probst, their first of two scoring connections in the first half.

(Dan Mohrmann/

But the bigger problem was slowing down the Cougars offense. Before the first half ended, Carlson threw another long touchdown pass, this one to Noah Lopez for 75 yards. He rushed for a 78-yard score and marched the Cougars right down the field in the closing seconds of the quarter where Mollendor scored his second rushing touchdown of the game.

This is the kind of offensive output the Cougars will need next week when they travel to Mancos to take on the No. 1-seeded Bluejays.

“Mancos is a big and physical team and they’re going to run the ball at us,” Michel said. “We’re going to have to make some big plays on them, match them on the scoreboard and try to get some stops when we can.”

A promising season for the Mustangs comes to a disappointing end, but next year’s team will have a chance to do something special. The bulk of the players returning next year are either juniors or freshmen this season. That includes Probst who is also a standout wrestler and sprinter for West Grand.

“I’m excited about the kids returning,” coach Chris Brown said. “Earlier when we beat Vail Christian I thought we could play against anyone as long as our defense was intact. We could get by someone and get maybe a Lyons in the next round and see what happens. But it didn’t happen that way.”

(Dan Mohrmann/