Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram’s top 10 sports stories for 2014.
Every fall, football teams set a goal of playing late into November.
That means playoffs, and three area schools got there this season, combining for a 26-1 regular season record.
Scott City went the furthest, falling to Rossville in the state Class 3A title game in Hutchinson, 21-14.
Holcomb lost in the Class 4A-II semifinals to Andale.
Ingalls fell to Wallace County in the second round of the Class 1A-Div. II tournament.
The success of the three was voted The Telegram’s No. 2 sports story of the year.
Scott City finishes second in 3A
That was the word Scott City coach Glenn O’Neil said everybody used to describe the success his team had this year.
“I think we surprised everybody except for ourselves,” he said. “They (the players) had it in their minds that if they come together and play well, that they can make it that far.”
“That far” was the state title game.
Scott City and Rossville were both 13-0 entering the title game. One of those records was going to be blemished, and it was the Beavers who lost on two late touchdowns, 21-14.
But before that, they cleared the road to the game with two decisive early victories and one major hurdle in the postseason.
As a top seed in their district, the Beavers hosted Ellsworth in the unusual Tuesday game in round one.
The Bearcats came in at 5-4, were younger and undermanned, and the Beavers dispatched them, 56-0.
Four days later, Scott City traveled to Norton, expecting a tough game against a perennial powerhouse. Result: 55-20 Scott City rout.
The following Saturday, under frigid home conditions, the Beavers focused on stopping a tough Wichita Collegiate team.
The cold was forgotten in the warm wake of a 26-6 victory.
The Beavers had never trailed at any time up to that point in the season.
Then came Halstead in the state semifinals.
The Beavers trailed 14-8 heading into the fourth quarter, but scored late to send the game into overtime. A dramatic leaping catch by Chantz Yager, who came down just inches inbounds, gave them the 20-14 win and a berth in the title game.
As expected, the game was a tough one.
Down 7-0 at halftime, Scott City scored on a Yager 30-yard reception.
Sloan Baker put the Beavers ahead with 8:46 left in the game when he caught a 34-yard pass.
But Rossville scored on a 2-yard run at 7:14 and then scored again with just 28 seconds left and sealed the win with an interception.
In their run through the season, the Beavers averaged 406 yards a game (256 rushing/150 passing). Cooper Griffith and Wyatt Kropp combined for over 2,220 yards rushing and 35 touchdowns. Trey O’Neil passed for nearly 1,900 yards and 21 scores to primarily four different receivers.
During the playoffs, they were plus-12 in turnovers, losing just one fumble.
“We weren’t able to stop them when we needed to there at the end,” coach Glenn O’Neil said of the loss to Rossville after the game. “The kids competed hard.”
They were a tight group, coach O’Neil added.
Their team T-shirts read, “We’re all we’ve got. We’re all we need. (Hashtag) family.”
It fit this group.
“They enjoyed each other; they liked being around each other,” coach O’Neil said. “They worked hard. They weren’t afraid to get on each other, but at the same time, they weren’t afraid to hug each other when the moment needed it.”
Holcomb gets to semifinals
Starting the year with a new coach and a new system could be troublesome.
But first-year head coach Kent Teeter almost got the Holcomb Longhorns to their first-ever state title game.
At 9-1, the ’Horns travelled to Clearwater for the sectional championship. The Indians, 4-6, had just upset once-beaten Wamego, 14-7, in their opening round.
But no upset was coming in this game as the Longhorns ended any notions of grandeur with a 49-14 drubbing on the road.
Then the dream season ended at Andale the following week, 57-13, on a chilly, misty night in a Class 4A-II semifinal.
“They were on a mission, and they were really very good at what they did,” Teeter said of Andale after the loss. “You look at phases, and we played good here and there, and they played very good almost the entire time.”
Andale was the preseason No. 1 team in Class 4A-II, and stayed atop the polls all year.
The first quarter ended at 7-7, but the Indians got their potent running game going and hit some timely passes. They scored four straight times over the next 15-plus minutes before Holcomb’s Conner VanCleave caught a 32-yard pass for a score.
But Andale scored three more times in the third quarter to put the game away and end the Longhorns’ season.
Andale finished the game with 404 rushing yards and 98 in the air.
Holcomb’s consistent running game, however, took an ill-timed holiday, mustering just 62 yards — a third its season average — on just 23 attempts.
“At times, we showed flashes of brilliance, and without a doubt the kids came ready to play,” Teeter said. “Their offensive line wore us down.”
And the defense kept the Longhorns in check all night, something nearly every team could not do all season.
Otherwise, Holcomb had a consistent season.
A balanced running game averaged 187 yards a game, led by a corps of runners, including Brandon Stegman (587 yards), and Dillon Williams and Blake Richmeier both with more than 400 yards.
Holcomb averaged 181.3 yards through the air as junior quarterback Trey Teeter threw for 1,768 yards with 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Stegman (559 yards, five scores) and Christian Merz (558 and six) led the receiving attack.
Ingalls gets to second round
Ingalls finished the regular season at 9-0, with eight of those games ending early due to the 45-point mercy rule.
Heading into the playoffs, could the Bulldogs continue that dominance?
It turns out in the first round, it was pretty much just that, as the Bulldogs overwhelmed Stafford at home, 52-6.
Josh Irsik, a first-team all-area player, rushed for 103 yards and a score, while Branson Sandoval added another 82 yards and five touchdowns, including one on a recovered fumble and return.
The Telegram’s area Coach of the Year Ted Brown was happy with his team’s play in that first-round game, erasing the first-round 50-0 loss to Victoria just a year earlier.
Then, they met 10-0 Sharon Springs/Wallace County and felt the sting of being on the receiving end of one of those blowouts, a 52-6 loss.
The season still resulted in one round further than the previous campaign, with a lot of players back next year, the optimist Brown noted.
In Brown’s four seasons as head coach, the Bulldogs have gone 5-4, 5-4 and 7-3 before this season’s 10-1 finish.
His players have become better on both sides of the ball because they have bought into a system that emphasizes football.
“You can really see the work that we started when I got here take hold in the weight room, in the the summer time, with the kinds of programs we have going on,” Brown said after being named coach of the year. “That really came to fruition, and you could really see that on the field this year.”
Ingalls averaged 230 rushing yards and 75 passing per game, but most of those games were over quickly so the stats might not be as “padded” as some teams’.
They scored 580 points (332 more than in their 7-3 season) and gave up just 182.
Sandoval and Irsik rushed for nearly 1,900 combined yards and 31 touchdowns.