From sitting at home with no weekend plans to posing for pictures with the MVP trophy of the Kansas Shrine Bowl.
That’s the unlikely journey Ja’Mon Cotton finished Saturday night at Welch Stadium.
At this time last week, the former Hutchinson running back thought he would play his next football game in a Pittsburg State uniform. But then his phone rang.
Turned out one of the tailbacks expected to take part in the annual all-star game was heading to college early and could no longer play.
Cotton was the first alternate, and he didn’t hesitate in accepting the belated invitation.
“It wasn’t a hard decision to come,” Cotton said. “Every player in the state wants to come to the Shrine Bowl. It was an honor.”
Now it is a priceless memory.
“It’s a great feeling,” Cotton said. “If you’re the MVP of anything, that’s special. On this night I was one of the better players. I wasn’t even supposed to be here a week ago. Now I’ve got this trophy.”
Cotton earned the award by rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown. In a game the West won 14-7, his lone score turned out to be the deciding moment.
It came early in the fourth quarter with the West clinging to an 8-7 lead. Cotton took a handoff straight up the middle for a nine-yard touchdown.
“All I really had to do was get the ball and take it into the end zone,” Cotton said. “I had great blocking on that play.”
In a game where neither team could muster many points, that was as big a difference as anything else. With neither team possessing a lead larger than eight points, the game was contested from start to finish. By the end, though, the West had won its seventh straight game in the series.
“Keeping the streak alive and working hard was something we really thought about and wanted to do,” said West receiver and K-State signee Deante Burton, who amassed 108 all-purpose yards. “That’s what kept us motivated.”
Good thing, because the West needed to hold on late, with East quarterback Garrett Fugate nearly connecting with Logan Miner for a touchdown pass in the final moments. But the West never gave up its lead.
The game started with the West jumping out to an early advantage when Heights quarterback Matt Reed found Abilene receiver Collin Sexton over the middle for a 54-yard touchdown pass. Reed was pressured on the play, but he avoided the pass rush and delivered a perfect strike to Sexton, who sauntered into the end zone untouched.
“After that I thought fireworks were going to go off and we were really going to get going,” Sexton said. “But there weren’t many more big plays. It was nice to get one of them.”
For Sexton, it was the perfect way to finish off his high school career before heading to Kansas State, where he will play alongside his brother, Curry, as a walk-on. He finished with two catches for 62 yards.
Reed then found McPherson receiver Jordan Hart on a two-point conversion to give the West an 8-0 advantage.
It took a while for the East to respond, but when it found its opening midway through the second quarter it took advantage quickly. With 7 minutes, 45 seconds remaining before halftime, Fugate connected with Michael Glatczak for a 55-yard touchdown strike.
Fugate, a Blue Valley Northwest quarterback, hit Glatczak across the left side, and the Centralia receiver outran everyone to the goal line to make the score 8-7 after using a few nifty moves to find open space.
The East, which hasn’t won in the Shrine Game since 2005, kept that momentum going and was in position to go into halftime with a lead. But Hart easily blocked a field-goal attempt on the final play of the second quarter.
Fugate gave the East a chance the whole way. He led East’s offense to its only score and threw for 204 yards.
Trent Stucky moved the West into the red zone midway through the third quarter with a 33-yard pass to Kole Schankie, but the team came up empty following a series of penalties.
W — Sexton 54 pass from Reed (Hart from Reed) 7:27
E — Glatczak 55 pass from Fugate (Walsh kick) 7:45
W — Cotton 9 run (run failed) 10:01