No. 10: Area football teams enjoy successful seasons
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of 10 stories counting down The Telegram's top 10 sports stories of 2011 as chosen by The Telegram.
By BRETT MARSHALL
It has been 12 years since the Garden City Buffaloes football team claimed the Class 6A state championship.
Over the past decade plus, no football team covered in the 12-county Telegram area, in any of the state's seven classifications, has won a respective state title on the gridiron.
The 2011 season, however, was one of the best in recent years for area teams.
Four teams — Class 6A Garden City, Class 4A Ulysses, Class 3A Scott City and Class 2A Stanton County — reached the quarterfinals, the Elite Eight, of their respective classes. One other — South Gray in Eight-Man, Division I — made it to the state championship game, only to fall to defending champion Madison, 30-12.
Perhaps it is a numbers game that prevents southwest Kansas football teams from being more competitive once the state playoffs begin. Certainly, however, the programs here are competitive and likely will continue that way.
Stability in coaching staffs is another reason that programs remain solid. Jason Kenny has been at the Ulysses helm for more than a decade; Glenn O'Neil completed his sixth year as the head coach at Scott City; Bret Kendrick has guided Stanton County for nearly two decades and Jeff Blattner finished his third year at South Gray, but has more than 30 years of being on the sidelines.
Add in Brian Hill at Garden City, who just finished his second year and guided the Buffs to a 7-3 record. He has resurrected the Buffs, going 12-8, the best two-year mark since Dave Meadows' title run in the 1990s.
Make no mistake, the area teams didn't lose to slouches.
Garden City was dropped, 30-3, by defending state champion and eventual 6A runner-up Wichita Heights. Change the result of about eight plays in that game, and the Buffs were right in the mix.
Ulysses' Tigers were beat up, battered and injured when powerhouse Rose Hill rolled into town for the 4A quarterfinal matchup. Without star running back, defensive back and return specialist Josh Jarnagin, the Tigers simply were no match for the bigger Rockets. They would go on to capture the Class 4A title with ease.
Same held true for Scott City as the Beavers reached the 3A quarterfinal round for the fourth time in five seasons. Once again, this was the end of the road for O'Neil and his team. They faced a powerful Conway Springs team and its befuddling single-wing offense on the road.
Conway would go on and easily claim the 3A championship and the 39-21 loss by the Beavers was the closest anybody came to the eventual state champions. Again, 15 minutes at the start of the game put the Beavers in a 26-0 hole and the rest of the way they outscored the Cardinals 21-13. It was a case of too little, too late.
Stanton County, which reached the semifinals in 2010 before falling to eventual 2A champ Meade, lost a heartbreaker in its quarterfinal matchup with Plainville by a 6-0 count. Kendrick said he would like to have a few plays over, still believing that his Trojans could have won the game. Alas, no instant replay or challenges in high school, and the Trojans season ended abruptly.
South Gray's Rebels, however, enjoyed their most successful season since Copeland and Montezuma consolidated in the early 1990s. Blattner's run-oriented offense, sparked by Coulter Croft and Wyatt Slaven, rolled to an unbeaten season until the championship game.
Of The Telegram's All-Area Top 11 players, 10 of those came from those five schools. Gabe Luna and Jake Curran represented Garden City; Jarnagin and Eloy Torres were Ulysses representatives; Croft and Slaven were Rebels selected; Scott City's picks were represented by Luke Hayes, Dalton Buehler and Colborn Couchman; and Quinn Kendrick was chosen from Stanton County. Only Hugoton's Colton Lissolo was chosen from a team not making a deep run into the playoffs. Couchman was chosen as The Telegram's Player of the Year after compiling more than 1,300 yards of total offense and being one of the best defensive ends/linebackers (87 tackles) from the 19 area schools.
There were no state championship banners to be hung after the 2011 football season, but it was nonetheless one of the best seasons in recent memory for southwest Kansas schools.