EL DORADO — The West found numbers in safety.
After fumbling the ball away inside the East 25-yard line with less than two minutes left, the West came up with two big defensive plays including a safety with exactly 1 minute on the clock to claim a 22-21 Kansas Shrine Bowl victory at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex.
The West, trailing by a point and driving from its own 5-yard line, was knocking on the door at the East 26-yard line when Dighton's Dylan Foos caught a short pass and was stripped of the ball by Aquinas' Nick Bulleigh. The East recovered at the 24, but was assessed a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for celebrating after the play, moving it back to the 4.
The West nearly got the safety on the first play, stopping Frontenac quarterback Brandon Mlekus just outside the goal line. Then a bad shotgun snap into the end zone forced Mlekus to scramble to his right, where he was chased down by Mulvane's Zach Helbing and Tanner Orand of Goddard Eisenhower for the safety and the lead.
Orand fielded the ensuing onside free kick attempt from the East and the West was able to run out the clock.
Penalties cost the East dearly in the fourth quarter.
After the West gave the ball up inside its 5-yard line on a bad punt snap late, the East had second and goal at the 2, only to be moved back 15 yards on an illegal chop block. The West was able to get a stop on downs and take over at its 21 with 2:50 left.
Ellsworth's Kaden Davis got the West in scoring position with a 49-yard catch-and-run from Great Bend's Jacob Murray. But on second down, a turnover put the East back in control — until the penalties moved it back to the 4.
The West, after squandering a two-touchdown lead by yielding 21 straight points to the East, got back in the game when Foos snagged a 7-yard pass over the middle from Hesston's Zach Esau to cut it to 21-20. But Esau was stopped short on the two-point conversion attempt with 1:37 left in the third quarter.
The East wasted little time taking the lead in the second half, scoring on its first two possessions to grab a 21-20 lead on Mlekus' 3-yard keeper to cap an eight-play, 68-yard drive. Bryce Steffens of Lenexa St. James kicked the extra point.
The East needed just one offensive play in the half to tie the game. Following a defensive stop, Kansas City Piper's JJ Letcher took the ball around left end on a jet sweep and ran away from the defense for a 73-yard score.
The West, plagued by five first-half turnovers, still led 14-7 at intermission.
After rolling to a 14-0 first-quarter advantage and threatening to add to the lead, the West was derailed by two straight interceptions inside the East 20-yard line.
An interception by Mitchell Wertzberger of Wabaunsee gave the East possession at the West 25 with less than a minute left, and on fourth down Topeka Seaman's Dalton Cowan found Troy's Cuttar Huss open in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown at the 34-second mark.
The West struck first, putting together a 65-yard drive on its second possession, with Murray finding Ellsworth's Kaden Davis on a 41-yard touchdown strike with 5:55 left.
The next series, Esau capped a 35-yard drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak, then hit Southeast of Saline's Ben Murray for the two-point conversion to make it 14-0 with 1:25 to go in the period.
But the next five series for the West ended with turnovers, the last one finally setting up the East score.
The West outgained the East 364 total yards to 304 with 237 coming through the air. Murray completed 10 of 18 passes for 132 yards and an interception — one of four thrown by the West. Ellsworth's Davis caught five passes for 95 yards and Foos six for 59, each with a touchdown.
The East had 170 yards rushing, 75 by Letcher, who was voted the team's most valuable player. Kody Gonzalez of Goddard led the West with 63 yards on 16 carries.
The West MVP was Helbing, who was credited with the deciding safety.
With the victory, the West snapped a two-game losing streak in the Shrine Bowl and increased its all-time lead to 27-16-1. The East had won three of the last four games.