By LARRY MORITZ
Special to The Telegram
MANHATTAN — Winning a state title under any circumstances is always going to be special. Winning in the manner the Republic County boys did Saturday night leaves them with a lot more memories and stories to share for the next 50 years and beyond.
The winning Buffaloes rallied from a six-point deficit in the final minute of regulation, forced overtime on a last-second shot by Trevor Allen, then never trailed in the extra period for a 64-53 victory over top-ranked Meade in the Class 2A championship game at Bramlage Coliseum.
“This is something I’ve always dreamed of — something the seniors have always dreamed of,” said Republic County senior Trenton Kuhlman, who had 30 points in his final high school game. “It’s unbelievable. It feels like a dream right now.”
The Buffaloes (23-3) won the program’s first state title since 1999, at that time as Belleville High School. They did it by beating a Meade team that came in with a 24-0 record.
“It was a classic,” said first-year Republic County head coach Kevin Kuhlman, a longtime assistant and junior high coach in Belleville before taking over for coaching legend Alan Sheets this season.
Republic County never trailed in the first half and was up 39-36 with less than five minutes remaining in regulation before Meade went on a 9-0 run. Republic County missed three shots from the field and the front end of two one-and-one free-throw opportunities in that stretch.
Meade led 47-41 with 50 seconds left before a bucket from Allen cut the deficit to four. After Meade hit 1 of 2 free throws, Trenton Kuhlman’s 3-pointer made it 48-46 at the 30-second mark.
Republic County got the ball back without having to foul when Meade turned it over on the inbounds.
After coach Kuhlman got a timeout with 5.9 seconds on the clock, Kyle Strutt inbounded to Allen. The 6-foot-3 junior drove into the lane from the right side and got the short shot to fall with 2.8 seconds remaining.
“That was awesome,” Allen said. “There were three places the ball could have gone and I was lucky that Kyle got it to me.”
Trenton Kuhlman’s 3-pointer put his team in front for good in the overtime, but Kuhlman also picked up his fifth foul on Meade’s next possession, forcing him to spend the final 2:31 on the bench.
“I thought that was important for us,” coach Kuhlman said of his team finishing with his son on the sideline. “As a team, as a unit, they had to finish the game and that’s probably what I’m most proud of.”
Despite losing their leading scorer, the Buffaloes didn’t flinch. Allen made eight consecutive free throws, the first four putting Republic County up 55-48 before Meade scored its first points in overtime. Stutt’s three-point play made it 62-53 and senior Zach Brzon’s bucket accounted for the team’s final points of the season.
Meade finished 2 of 11 from the field and 0 for 3 at the line in the four-minute extra period, while Republic County made 3 of 4 field goals and 9 of 11 free throws.
“We had the lead in the fourth quarter but we knew Meade would come back,” coach Kuhlman said. “For these kids not to quit — they persevered. They kept battling.”
Allen had 12 of his 21 points in the final minute of regulation and overtime. Allen and senior Gary Hadachek had nine rebounds each as Republic County finished with a 37-29 rebounding advantage.