When it became clear that Conway Springs would be traveling to Smith Center to play on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A football playoffs, memories came flooding back.
In 1997, Conway Springs was the story. Led by Mark Bliss, who installed the ancient single-wing offense, the Cardinals were undefeated heading into the Class 3A semifinals. Smith Center ended that run.
The Cardinals' story continued in 1998 when they were undefeated again and traveled to Smith Center, where Conway Springs won and went on to take the 3A title. It was the first of six titles, including four straight from 2001-2004.
That was a special team to watch in 1998. There was Eric Pauly after the title game, still bloodied from a hit to the nose. There was quarterback Kyle Barkley, a former receiver, who led the team to victory.
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Now take a look at this season's team, and little has changed.
Coach Matt Biehler, the third coach since Bliss left after the 2003 season, was a first-year assistant in 1998.
And on his staff are connections to those first years, including Fred Cottrell, who started in 1997, Gregg Hullinger (1996), and Ryan King (2007), who played on the 1998 team. Lelin George began as an assistant in 2001 and was the head coach for the 2008 championship team.
There are familiar names sprinkled through the lineup, too. There's Kayl Barkley, the younger brother of Kyle. And there's Austin Pauly, the younger brother of Eric.
Barkley, a Conway Springs senior, remembers that 1998 title game well.
"It all started with Kyle," Kayl Barkley said of Conway Springs' traditions. "I was growing up and going to all his games. I grew up wearing his jersey, looking up to him... I remember the hard work he put into it, and the crowds that were there and cheering them on."
The offense hasn't changed, either. Biehler continues to run the single wing.
"Our kids really believe in the single wing," Biehler said. "I guess it's Conway Springs. It's a fit for us. It's an identity for us. We have the little kids that look up to these older guys, and the older guys go and talk to them in the spring.... They talk about being that next player, when it's their turn."
"I love it," he said of the single wing. "I want to control the clock and wear out the defense for the fourth quarter."
Conway Springs has a big offensive line, as well as fast, strong backs. There's Brian Doffing, with 1,320 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on 110 carries, and Cory Misak (826 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 67 carries).
"We take a lot of pride in our offense. We try to run the ball as much as we can, run it down their throat if we can," Pauly said.
But the spread offense is what so many high schools have gone to, why not Conway Springs?
"We build the kids in the weight room to run power football," Biehler said. "We feel we can control the clock.... And we just feel that's the type of kid we have here. We don't have the type of kids that are spread (offense) types. We have big kids on the O-line that give us good, power football, and hard-nosed kids that like to run and play physical football."
When Biehler arrived at Conway Springs out of Southwestern College, the Cardinals had realized they weren't as physical as teams like Smith Center.
"I came in that summer, and the kids they were talking about how they were working out so hard in the weight room," Biehler said. "There was big drive and determination."
And it was because of that 1997 loss at Smith Center.