TOPEKA — The streak is over.
After seven straight losses in the Kansas Shrine Bowl, the East finally tasted victory at the state’s annual all-star football game Saturday at Yager Stadium.
This year’s batch of East players wildly celebrated the 22-19 win when it was over, storming the field and jumping with joy over the result that so many of their predecessors were unable to achieve. It meant something to them. And why not?
This one was hard-earned. The West scored first and held a 19-14 lead with 6 minutes, 9 seconds remaining. For most of the night, it looked like the Kansas Shrine Bowl was going to end the same way it always has.
Then Austin Moses caught a 20-yard touchdown on a halfback pass from Conley Wilkins with 3:04 remaining to give the East a late lead, and everything changed. The Blue Valley Northwest product followed that up with a catch in the right corner of the end zone for a two-point conversion to put the East on top 22-19.
“It felt great,” Moses said. “I wanted to do it for all the coaches, the Shriners and all of the East side. All anyone talked about this week was how the West always wins. Leaving here with the win was a blast.”
The West took the ensuing kickoff knowing it needed a field goal to tie and a touchdown to win. Hoping to keep its winning streak intact, the West quickly marched to the East’s 18 and called for a pass that could win the game.
West quarterback Zeke Palmer of Bishop Carroll threw a jump ball to the left side of the end zone and hoped his receiver would come down with it. Instead, Spencer Bernhardt made a leaping interception.
“Our coaches switched us from zone to man,” Bernhardt said. “I was man-up on the split end. I had my eye on him. I saw him slowing down so I looked at the quarterback. I saw Palmer rolling out to his right. I followed him over there and saw him stop in my tracks. I turned my eyes back to the receiver and I went up and got it.”
The former Pittsburg star wasn’t on the sidelines for any of the East’s past failures, but at that moment he felt like he was involved in every one of them.
“We have heard about it and we have been associated with it,” Bernhardt said. “For the past couple months all we’ve heard is people saying, ‘The West is going to win because the West always wins.’ For us to go down as the team that ended that streak is a great feeling. Watching those final seconds burn off the clock felt pretty good. That is about the best way I could think to end my high school career.”
Bernhardt made the game’s decisive play, but his defensive teammate Trent Tanking took home Most Outstanding Player honors for the East. The K-State freshman from Holton made a game-high 16 tackles and forced a fumble.
He made life difficult for the West’s offense, and added one final high school honor to his resume before heading off to K-State’s fall camp.
“Our defensive line started things by getting pressure on Zeke and making him scramble all game,” Tanking said. “Our job was go 1-0. We were getting tired of all the coaches telling us the West wins every year, but this was an all-star game and there are great people on both teams every year. You have to play well to win, and fortunately we did.”
Other notable performers were East running back Denzel Chilcoat, who rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown, East receiver Tye Hughes, who had 25 yards and a touchdown, and East tight end Dayton Valentine, who caught two passes for 30 yards.
For the West, Palmer completed 14 of 20 passes for 175 yards to go along with 68 rushing yards, while Kip Keeley caught five passes for 77 yards. Palmer won Most Outstanding Player honors for the West.
For the first time in nearly a decade, this all-star game belonged to the East.
W — Kite 7 pass from Phox (run failed)
E — Chilcoat 31 run (pass failed)
W — Cardinal 2 run (Phox kick)
E — Hughes 19 pass from Walbridge (Conley pass for Walbridge)
W — Busby 6 run (run faile)
E — Moses 20 pass from Wilkins (Moses pass from Solis)
Rushing — East, Chilcoat 7-83, Solis 12-34, Hammond 2-7, Wilkins 1-2, Hughes 1-1, Walbridge 1-0, Sterbach 3-(-2). West, Palmer 13-68, Keeley 9-23, Cardinal 9-20, Newlan 4-10, Busby 6-2.
Passing — East, Solis 9-22-76-0, Walbridge 7-7-69-0, Wilkins 1-1-20-0. West, Palmer 14-20-175-1, Newman 0-1-0-0, Phox 1-1-7-0.
Receiving — East, Highes 4-25, Reback 4-16, Moses 3-76, Valentine 2-30, Turler 1-7, Chilcoat 1-6, Wilkins 1-3, Sterbach 1-2. West, Phox 6-62, Keeley 5-77, Phillips 2-12, Brooks 1-7, Kite 1-7, Busby 0-17.