By BRETT MARSHALL
BELOIT — One could only imagine what might have been going through the mind of Scott City football coach Glenn O'Neil and his Beavers when they trailed 18-14 at halftime of Friday night's Class 3A semifinal battle here against the Beloit Trojans.
After all, the Trojans, the behemoths of the run, run, run game, had dominated the line-of-scrimmage while rolling up 240 rushing yards and 13 first downs.
But when the second half started, it was like a whole new game, albeit with few big changes by the Beavers.
The result was a dominating Scott City defense, an opportunistic offense and the big-plays by senior back Dalton Buehler that lifted the Beavers to a bone-crunching 42-26 triumph over the previously unbeaten Trojans.
The victory catapults them into next Saturday's 1 p.m. state championship game against unbeaten Silver Lake at Hutchinson's Gowans Stadium. Silver Lake handed Rossville a 35-14 loss in the other semifinal game Friday night.
The championship game will be No. 1 vs. No. 2 with both teams unblemished with 13-0 records. It also will mark the first title appearance for the Beavers since 1994 when they lost 28-8 to Paola. The Beavers won 4A state crowns in 1988, 1989 and 1991.
"This just feels way different than basketball," said senior tight end Drew Kite, who hauled in a pair of touchdown passes from Brett O'Neil. "The first one in basketball was special, but it's been such a long time for the school to get there. I think that is what makes this feel so special."
Kite hauled in TD receptions of 6 and 20 yards, one in the second quarter and another in the fourth
Friday, though, will be remembered by huge momentum shifts, big plays by both teams and one that could only be compared to a slugfest of heavyweights.
Buehler, who saw limited playing time during much of the season when the Beavers were winning big, came up big on a night when the Beavers needed it. The senior back finished with 222 yards on 26 carries and scored three touchdowns, including a back-breaking 90-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter on a kickoff following Beloit's final score that had cut the Beavers' lead to 35-26.
"Big players come up big and Dalton's been patient all season, not getting a lot of touches," head coach O'Neil said. "But he was really special tonight. All of our kids just were tough, especially in the second half. Beloit's about as big and physical a team as we've seen, but tonight all our offseason work paid off."
Indeed, it didn't take the high-scoring Trojans (59.8 pts. average) long to ring the scoreboard. With barely two minutes gone in the first quarter, speedster Bowe Behymer raced 73 yards for the Trojans' first score. As they have done all season, they went for two, and the run failed.
Undaunted, the Beavers answered nearly as quickly. Four plays into their first possession and it was Buehler who took it 45 yards, cutting to the outside and leaving the Trojan defenders looking on. Brett O'Neil then booted the first of his six perfect PATs, and just like that the Beavers were up 7-6.
From there it just seemed like it was off to the races. But Scott City's defense came up big, twice holding the Trojans on fourth down situations.
Payton Vetter put the Trojans up 12-7 when he went around left end on a 13-yard TD run early in the second quarter only to have Scott City answer with O'Neil's first of three TD passes, covering 6 yards to Kite. That made it 14-12 Scott City. Then it was the Trojans turn to grab some momentum in the final three minutes.
A 46-yard, 11-play ground-crunching drive was capped off by Vetter's 3-yard plunge on fourth down. Another missed PAT try with just 39 seconds left put the Trojans up 18-14 at intermission and seemingly with all the momentum.
"We just knew we had to step up our game in the second half," senior lineman Michael McEacher said. "We just had to stay low on the defensive line because their backs run so low to the ground and push. It was a heckuva battle, but man was that a lot of fun."
After the teams traded possessions to open the third, the Beavers got big passing plays to Tyler Hess, the first a 17-yarder, and the second a scoring strike of 40 yards from Brett O'Neil. Hess made a nifty cutback and then outraced Beloit's defenders to the end zone. With the PAT by O'Neil, it was now 21-18 Beavers.
Another defensive stand by the Beavers' defense stopped Beloit on fourth down at the Trojan 41. Then, Buehler took over with a 26-yard burst followed by a 15-yard TD in which he broke at least three tackles by Beloit. That made it 28-14.
Next, it was another defensive stand by the Beavers, forcing the Trojans to punt for the second time in the game and just the third time for the entire season. Vetter shanked the punt and the Beavers were back on track at the 45. It took them six plays to cover the distance with Kite hauling in a high throwback pass from O'Neil. That came with 8:31 to go in the game to produce a 35-18 Beaver advantage.
Beloit didn't fold, though, as the Trojans scored on their first play from scrimmage after the kickoff when fullback Stanten Krone took a wide screen pass from Vetter and raced 76 yards down the sideline, breaking a couple of tackles en route to the 76-yard TD. They finally made the 2-point conversion on a pass from Vetter to RJ Jackson and it was 35-26 with 8:05 remaining.
Buehler delivered the final blow when he took the ensuing kickoff at his own 10, darted to the outside, broke a tackle and was heading east untouched for the 90-yard score that iced this one away. The Trojans, not noted for their passing, threw one interception and fumbled the ball away once in the final four minutes.
"We just tried to throw a lot of little passes to keep them off balance," said Brett O'Neil, who was 10-of-18 for 187 yards and was picked off once, just his second theft of the season. He more than made up for that, though, with one interception of Vetter in the waning minutes. "We were able to get some quick fade routes and our guys made some great catches."
Of Buehler's performance, his teammate O'Neil simply said, "he's a beast and he simply ran with a lot of passion tonight."
Coach O'Neil said the changes at halftime were more subtle than substantive.
"We didn't get too excited about being down," the Beavers' coach said. "We just wanted them to keep their composure and try to make adjustments that were easy for them to make. That game lasted all the way to the end and it was just a big battle, and a lot of fun to coach in that kind of a game."
Scott City 7 7 14 14 -- 42
Beloit 6 12 0 8 -- 26
BEL--Bowe Behymer 73 run (run failed), 10:39.
SC--Dalton Buehler 45 run (Brett O'Neil kick), 9:41.
BEL--Payton Vetter 13 run (run failed), 10:24.
SC--Drew Kite 6 pass from Brett O'Neil (B. O'Neil kick), 3:31.
BEL--Payton Vetter 3 run (pass failed), 0:39.8.
SC--Tyler Hess 40 pass from B. O'Neil (B. O'Neil kick), 5:45.
SC--Dalton Buehler 15 run (B. O'Neil kick), 3:27.
SC--Drew Kite 20 pass from B. O'Neil (B. O'Neil kick), 8:31.
BEL--Stanten Krone 76 pass from P. Vetter (RJ Jackson pass from Vetter), 8:05.
SC--D. Buehler 90 kickoff return (B. O'Neil kick), 7:52.
First downs 15 19
Rushes-yards 39-228 69-315
Passing yards 187 108
Com-Att-Int 10-18-1 4-12-2
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 3-35 1-5
Punts-avg. 4-33.7 2-28.5
RUSHING--SC: Buehler 26-22, Wells 6-18, B. O'Neil 3-(-13), Banda 1-7, Hess 1-(-1), Team (2-(-5); B: Vetter 14-58, Niemczyk 22-85, Behymer 27-156, Krone 6-16.
PASSING--SC: B. O'Neil 10-18-1--187; B: Vetter 4-12-2--108.
RECEIVING--SC: Buehler 1-2, T. O'Neil 3-77, Hess 3-80, Kite 2-26; B: Behymer 1-1, Krone 2-88, Budke 1-19.