HUTCHINSON Conway Springs has outgrown Class 3A football.
The Cardinals have nothing left to prove in 3A, a class they have dominated by winning seven state championships since 1998. Conway got No. 7 on a windy Saturday, beating its eastern-Kansas rival Silver Lake 49-7 at Gowans Stadium.
Silver Lake, which has met Conway six times in the championship game, also has seven 3A titles but needed 17 more years than Conway Springs to get them.
In the past 14 seasons, the Cardinals are 158-16, have had a 62-game winning streak (2001-05) and have won state championships under four coaches.
Matt Biehler, the latest to get a crown, said it's all about work ethic.
"We just come to work and do what we have to do,'' the no-nonsense Biehler said. "These kids just buy in.''
Biehler was an assistant to Mark Bliss in 1998, as were current Cardinals coaches Fred Cottrel and Gregg Hullinger. There has been a steadiness to the Conway Springs program over the years, a uniformity and a set of expectations that produces winning teams.
Outside of a 7-2 record in 1999 and a 6-3 mark in 2006, Conway has won at least 10 games in every season since '98. The Cardinals avenged a state-title loss to Silver Lake last year by leaving no doubt this time, scoring a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and keeping their feet on the pedal.
Conway rolled for 510 rushing yards 201 from Cory Misak and 187 by Brian Doffing, seniors who grew up knowing what would be expected of them as Cardinals.
"People dream of playing here and we play and practice the best we can,'' said Misak, who scored four touchdowns. "The coaches do a great job and we have a really great weightlifting program.''
Most of the Conway Springs players dyed their hair blond for Saturday's game, but normally what you see is what you get with the Cardinals.
When I tried to float the complimentary notion that Conway has grown beyond 3A as a football power, I was respectfully shot down.
"We don't think much about playing bigger schools,'' Biehler said. "We just play our schedule and do what we have to do.''
Still, it's fascinating to wonder how Conway Springs might do this season against 4A champion Rose Hill or even the 5A champ and reigning state powerhouse, Hutchinson.
"We went to camp during the summer and played some of the teams in the Wichita City League and Hutchinson,'' Doffing said. "We didn't do too bad against them. We always think we can play with anybody. We never think we're going to lose.''
But it was a loss Conway's only loss this season that sparked something within the Cardinals. After outscoring Douglass, Belle Plaine and Wichita Independent 210-8 to start the season, Conway was beaten by its biggest rival, Garden Plain, 19-13 in overtime.
"It did us some good to lose that game,'' Misak said. "We thought we were invincible and we found out we weren't. We found out that anybody can step up and beat us.''
Well, maybe not anybody. Garden Plain and Conway Springs have battled for years and that's always one of the biggest games in the state.
But after that defeat, Conway Springs went 10-0 and outscored its opponents 472-70, including 188-42 in the 3A playoffs.
See why I want to see the Cardinals play a higher level of competition?
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to drum up much support for that idea from the players I talked to.
"I don't know about that,'' Misak said. "We just come out and practice and prepare the same way for everybody. I suppose how we would do against bigger schools would depend on how we were practicing that week.''
Doffing, a senior, was 5 when the Conway Springs dynasty started. He isn't sure, either, about playing against bigger schools, but he sure does enjoy the success the Cardinals have had ever since he can remember.
"It's just tradition,'' he said. "These guys should be good again next year. Our freshmen have been watching and practicing and hitting the weights.''
That's part of growing up in Conway Springs, where it's all about football and winning championships. The Cardinals added another title Saturday. They beat the teams they play and they don't spend much time thinking about who else is out there.