By KEVIN THOMPSON
The defining moment in the Stanton County football team's dream season is easy to mark.
The Trojans went 10-2, making it to the Kansas Class 2A semifinals before losing to eventual state champion Meade for the second time.
The thing is, that defining moment didn't occur in some highlight film or top play at the end of the season. It occurred much, much earlier.
The moment happened in the Trojans' season opener, Sept. 3 at Lakin.
Dominated by the Broncs, and down 16-0 at halftime, coach Bret Kendrick talked to his team at intermission.
He told them, "When everybody starts executing like they're supposed to, you win the war."
Simple message; huge results.
With 6:28 left in the third quarter, the Trojans took over on downs at their own 27-yard line. Senior Austin Nairn took the first play from scrimmage right up the middle 73 yards, virtually untouched, to get Stanton County on the scoreboard and swing the momentum its way.
That play ignited the Trojans as they went on to win the game 26-16 and set them on the road to a season worthy of The Telegram's No. 4 sports story of the year.
It was that belief in the system, and each other, that defined how the Trojans would compete the rest of the season.
"Our kids refuse to lose," Kendrick said after that opening game. "They don't go down without a fight. They weren't going to quit. And they stayed with it and stayed with it and good things happen when you stay with it."
And stay with it they did for the rest of the 2010 season, advancing further into the playoffs than they had for many years.
Not since a title in 1983 had the Trojans accomplished more.
Four years ago, Stanton County finished 8-2. But then they fell on hard times, going 4-6 each of the next two seasons (both seasons ending with first-round playoff losses) and finishing only 3-6 last year.
But with senior leadership, and a belief in the team concept, Kendrick said this year's squad had the makings of the breakout season they were all anticipating.
In the regular season, Stanton County outscored its opponents by nearly 200 points (315-118), an average of 35-13 per game. Included in that run were three shutouts. Forty-two of those opposition points came at the hands of Meade in the Trojans only loss before the playoffs, that occurring Oct. 1, in a district contest.
That trend served them well in the postseason playoffs as they disposed of Ellis 52-7 and Ell-Saline 36-14 before falling to Meade 44-26 in the semifinal game.
It was the players coming together as a team, pushing each other to hit the weight room, and do off-season conditioning, that keyed the Trojans success in 2010.
"It's a community," Kendrick told The Telegram in describing this team's bonding. "We're just a complete team in every way. We have kids who stand out, but they aren't standouts. They're not in it for themselves."
One of those standouts was Nairn, who was named to The Telegram's All-Area first team and was voted all-league by Hi-Plains League coaches for the past two seasons.
The senior amassed 1,943 total yards (more than 1,600 on the ground) and 21 touchdowns. He even threw for a score in the final game.
He also had 53 tackles, three interceptions and four fumble recoveries on the defensive side, where he was also all-league.
Of the turnaround from his junior to senior years, Nairn told The Telegram, "Last year we weren't very good. But we started hitting the weight room and working out this summer."
As for senior leadership, that just sort of happened, he said. In addition to himself, Marcus Perez, Edgar Navarro, Eric Shironaka, Leighton Grover, Isaiah Anderson, DJ Logan, Holden Shore and Will Casswell all played a role.
"I wasn't really ready for (being a leader) at the beginning of the year," Nairn said. "Coach got onto us seniors a little bit and got us in line."
Sophomore quarterback Quinn Kendrick and sophomore running back Marques Logan are poised to step in as the next leaders, with the Trojans looking to show they weren't just a fluke this season.
Quinn Kendrick played in eight games after sustaining micro-fractures in his leg in the first Meade game. He still managed some impressive numbers: 848 rushing yards on 83 carries, 632 passing yards on 40 completions, with eight rushing touchdowns and eight passing TDs.
Logan had 857 rushing yards on 108 carries with 18 touchdowns, and 332 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
"The kids worked hard all season long," coach Kendrick said. "They bought in to the system. Everybody was always picking against us, and we used that as fuel in the locker room."
And he is already drawing up plays for next season.