By BRETT MARSHALL
HUTCHINSON — Two hours prior to kickoff for the 2012 Class 3A state championship game at Gowans Stadium, Scott City senior quarterback/free safety/punter/placekicker Brett O'Neil was nowhere to be found at the facility.
He was back in the team's hotel, battling flu-like symptoms that hit hard around 6:30 a.m.
"It was just really bad," said senior tight end/linebacker Drew Kite. "It was like, what's going to happen? We didn't know."
At the same time, senior standout running back Dalton Buehler, who had rushed for nearly 1,900 yards in the first 13 wins for the Beavers, was testing his gimpy left ankle on the artificial turf with a slight limp. He had been stepped on late in the victory over Beloit the week before in the semifinals.
He would only be able to carry the ball 4 times in the first quarter for 12 yards, then retired to the bench to ice his swollen ankle.
Those two uncertainties may have led to Scott City digging its biggest hole possible, falling behind 21-0 to the Silver Lake Eagles with just 33 seconds left in the first half.
But the Beavers battled back in the final two quarters and 5 seconds and produced a dramatic 28-21 victory.
The game-winning play came with just 46 seconds left in the game when the ill O'Neil hit Kite on a slide-out pass pattern.
It took 9 plays and 4 minutes, 2 seconds, and they did it on a first-and-goal play from the 8.
Kite, setting up on the right end of a tight formation, faked a block into the middle, slid to the outside and O'Neil found him wide open and he nestled the ball into Kite's hands for the winning points.
"I just wanted to make sure I didn't drop it," Kite said. "No question, the biggest catch of my life. This feels just amazing, maybe better than the basketball championships (2011-2012). Definitely just as good, but also different. Football is bigger in Scott City and in Kansas. This is just incredible."
The Beavers may never have had that opportunity, though, had it not been for their final drive of the first half.
Trailing 21-0, Trey O'Neil took a lateral pass from his older brother and then threw a perfect strike to a wide-open Tyler Hess for 39 yards to the 23.
On a 3rd-and-10, Brett O'Neil found his younger brother on a post pattern right at the goal line, who stretched out and got the ball into the end zone with just 5 seconds left.
After two drives stalled for the Beavers at the outset of the third quarter, they finally closed the deficit to a TD and extra point on another huge defensive play by Hess.
His interception and return of 26 yards to the Silver Lake 11 put the Beavers in scoring position again.
On first down, a nifty fake of an inside run, O'Neil kept the ball and outraced cornerback Cody Renfro to the end zone. When O'Neil booted the extra point, Scott City was down just 21-14 with 4:47 left in the third.
Another big play, this one a delayed call by the line judge, eventually played a role in the tying touchdown for the Beavers.
With first and goal on the second play of the fourth quarter, Brenner Wells either was stopped short of the goal line when his knee touched the turf, or he had the ball across the goal line for an apparent TD, or he fumbled the ball.
Silver Lake's Ryan Matzke picked up the ball and raced 99 yards untouched for what the Eagles thought would give them back a two TD lead. But the line judge ruled Wells down inside the 1-yard line.
The Beavers didn't score, but after forcing a Silver Lake punt and then an interception of O'Neil, the Beavers got the big play when sophomore lineman Wyatt Eitel blocked Evan Burdiek's punt at Silver Lake's 6.
On the next play, Wells, subbing for the injured Buehler, went off right tackle to score and the conversion tied the game at 21 with 4:59 remaining.
After the ensuing kickoff and a 5-yard penalty against the Beavers set up Silver Lake at its own 37, Dailan Kruger threw another costly interception, this one picked off by Wells, setting the Beavers back up at their own 48, which led to the winning drive.
The Eagles got one final opportunity to tie the game, but Kruger's third interception of the day, this one again by Hess, sealed the deal.
Brett O'Neil took a knee and the clock wound down, providing the end to one of the amazing comebacks in state championship history.
For Scott City's coach O'Neil, the win provided the capstone to an undefeated season and overcoming four seasons of frustration in the playoffs, two of which were heartbreaking, last-minute losses in 2008 and 2009 to Garden Plain and Wichita Collegiate, then losing to Smith Center and Conway Springs in 2010 and 2011. There was no denying this group of Beavers.
"We just told them (at halftime), 'don't give up'," coach O'Neil said. "We had a devotion this morning, and it was said if you're going to go compete, then compete to the best of your ability. They never gave up. They're a tough bunch of kids. We were about one bad play from making it tougher for us. But we somehow persevered and found a way."
It was plays by numerous Beavers that enabled them to overcome a series of first-half mishaps that would have proven costly to most teams. But not this group.
"We were wondering who was going to play quarterback, who's going to be the running back," said Hess. "Just lots of questions. Brett's the important, if not the most important, player we have. He's the quarterback, he's our leader on defense who makes the calls on the field, he just does everything, and we didn't know if we'd have him."
During pre-game warmups, the younger O'Neil practiced kickoffs and extra point kicks, something he had not done all season. Another sophomore, Brett Meyer, also took snaps at quarterback. But the senior got to the field just an hour before game time to take the helm.
Things started sickly for the Beavers, though.
Silver Lake scored first after a 3-and-out forced the Beavers to punt, and Brett O'Neil nearly had his punt blocked and the wind held the ball for a net of 0 yards. That set up the Eagles at the Scott City 21.
In three plays Peter Pfannenstiel got the TD on a 9-yard burst.
The Beavers' Chris Pounds and Alex Kough failed to communicate on receiving the kickoff and one of them fell on the ball at the Beavers' 3-yard line.
Another 3-and-out and another dreadful punt of 15 yards into the teeth of the wind put Silver Lake back in business at the 21; and this time it took them six plays and 2:46 to cover the distance, with Kruger scooting around left end from 3 yards out. His PAT kick made it 14-0, and there was still 5:45 to go in the opening period.
Scott City then put together perhaps its best drive of the day, and yet came up empty.
A 20-play, 56-yard drive stalled out at the Silver Lake 21 when the Beavers faced a fourth-and-18 situation and O'Neil's pass to Wells fell incomplete. The Beavers forced an Eagle punt, but O'Neil threw his first interception of the day.
Once again, Silver Lake took advantage, this time getting a six-play, 61-yard drive, capped off by Blake Baird's 1-yard dive. A 29-yard pass from Kruger to Burdiek was the big play of the drive. Kruger kicked the conversion, and with just 33.6 seconds left before halftime, the Eagles were cruising at 21-0 before Scott City's dramatic turnaround.
The Eagles could never figure out the Beavers' defense, which stifled their potent offense the entire game, holding them to a total of 169 yards and just 54 yards in the second half.
For coach O'Neil, now 63-10 in his six seasons, just finding a way was more important than any single statistic.
"We did things today we don't normally do," O'Neil said of the turnovers, six penalties, bad field position, punt problems and then dealing with the health situations of his two standouts. "Bottom line is to find a way to get the 'W'. It was a dramatic way to win the game and these kids really paid the price to get it. They're the ones who won this. We've got a lot of special kids in this group. I thought the issues of possibly losing Brett and not having D.B. (Buehler), made us come out a little flat, a little nervous. We just told them, 'somebody else needed to step up' — and they did."
Notes: It was Scott City's fourth title, with others coming in Class 4A in 1988, 1989 and 1991. They were runners-up in 4A in 1994. It was Silver Lake's 17th Class 3A state championship appearance, and the Eagles are now 7-10.
Silver Lake 14 7 0 0 -- 21
Scott City 0 7 7 14 -- 28
SL--Peter Pfannenstiel 9 run (Dailin Kruger kick), 9:16. 3 plays, 21 yards, 0:47.
SL--Dailin Kruger 3 run (Kruger kick), 5:45. 6 plays, 21 yards, 2:46.
SL--Blake Baird 1 run (Kruger kick), 0:33.6. 6 plays, 39 yards, 2:52.
SC--Trey O'Neil 23 pass from Brett O'Neil (Brett O'Neil kick), 0:04.9. 5 plays, 62 yards, 0:29.
SC--Brett O'Neil 11 run (B. O'Neil kick), 4:47. 1 play, 11 yards, 0:07.
SC--Brenner Wells 6 run (B. O'Neil kick), 4:59. 1 play, 6 yards, 0:04.
SC--Drew Kite 8 pass from Brett O'Neil (B. O'Neil kick), 0:46.2. 9 plays 52 yards, 4:02.
Team Statistics SL SC
First downs 9 15
Rushes-yards 38-114 38-94
Passing yards 55 250
Com-Att-Int 3-10-3 17-30-3
Total offense 169 344
Offensive plays 48 68
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 6-44 6-49
3rd down conversions 5-12 4-16
4th down conversions 0-0 4-8
Punts-avg. 6-24.2 3-17.7
Possession Time 19:47 28:13
RUSHING--Silver Lake:Pfannenstiel 21-81, Kruger 13-26, Renfro 2-7, Baird 1-1, Team 1-(-1). Scott City: Wells 15-39, Kough 8-27, B. O'Neil 5-18, Buehler 4-12, Banda 2-3, Hess 3-(-4), Team 1-(-1).
PASSING--Silver Lake: Kruger 3-10-3--55. Scott City: B. O'Neil 16-29-3--208, T. O'Neil 1-1-0--42.
RECEIVING--Silver Lake: Burdiek 2-44, Robinson 1-11. Scott City: Hess 5-119, Kite 4-68, Eggleston 3-6, T. O'Neil 2-32, Wells 2-21, Kough 1-4.
Road to the Title
Oct. 30--CIMARRON, W 55-6
Nov. 3--at Salina-Sacred Heart, W 55-7
Nov. 9--GARDEN PLAIN, W 49-0
Nov. 16--at Beloit, W 42-26
Nov. 24--vs. Silver Lake at Hutchinson, W 28-21