HUTCHINSON — The art of playing a physical football game, as it is known in Class 3A, has often been defined by teams from Conway Springs.
Every yard gained must be battled for, and every point must be earned when you play the Cardinals. On Saturday afternoon at Gowans Stadium in Hutchinson, Silver Lake deserved everything it got against Conway.
Going toe-to-toe with the Cardinals physically, Silver Lake came away with a 27-21 victory to earn the 3A title.
It was the first loss of the season for Conway Springs.
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“That was a heck of a team,” said Conway Springs senior defensive lineman Kayl Barkley. “They had some big boys up there that were playing physical. They brought it and we responded and it just went back-and-forth.”
The Cardinals have rolled this season behind a bruising line and wearing down opposing defenses with the three-headed rushing attack of Brian Doffing, Cory Misak and Austin Pauly.
Silver Lake was the first opponent to match Conway Springs’ size in the trenches. The result was only four runs of over 10 yards and under a four-yard average on 51 carries.
“Their size gave us a little bit of trouble,” Conway Springs coach Matt Biehler said. “They did a great job stuffing the middle and they made us do some things that we don’t do as often.”
To translate: Conway had to throw the ball at times. While sophomore quarterback Tanner Wood was effective in the first half (4 for 4, 44 yards), he had a harder time throwing on obvious passing downs.
The most important one came with Conway trailing 20-14 with four minutes remaining in the game, when Wood took a shot downfield and was intercepted by Silver Lake’s Keenan Kruger. The Eagles scored four plays later for the game’s first two-score lead.
Jordan Ast’s 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown cut Silver Lake’s lead to six, but the Eagles converted a fourth-and-inches to seal the win.
“They just made plays when it counted,” Biehler said. “We couldn’t get the big play. They kept our big-play capability down.”
The teams were tied 7-7 at halftime and 14-14 after three quarters, but the Cardinals never led.
Not to say they didn’t have opportunities. Doffing intercepted a Kruger pass near midfield, but three penalties and a sack ended the drive. Conway Springs also had a drive stall in Silver Lake territory, ending on a fourth-down incompletion after 13 plays.
Silver Lake capitalized with a touchdown drive on its next possession, featuring 10 runs, including Kruger’s 8-yard scamper to go ahead 20-14 with 4:28 remaining.
Doffing finished with 31 carries for 114 yards. Misak had 56 yards and a touchdown.
The Cardinals had won five of the previous nine 3A championships.
“We gave all we could give,” Barkley said. “From there, you just have to take it and work harder next year.”
For this year at least, there was a team out there just a little better.
“Tomorrow, we just got to get in the weight room and start lifting and get better for next season,” Doffing said.
Silver Lake (13-1) 0 7 7 13 — 27
Conway Springs (13-1) 0 7 7 7 — 21
SL— Hermann 7 pass from Kruger (Barnes kick)
CS— Doffing 2 run (Harris kick)
SL— Dewey 54 pass from Kruger (Barnes kick)
CS— Misak 33 run (Harris kick)
SL— Kruger 7 run (Barnes kick missed)
SL— Boyd 3 run (Barnes kick)
CS— Ast 84 kickoff return (Harris kick)
Rushing—ilver Lake, Kruger 18-81, Morehead 10-50, Boyd 5-16, Rickel 5-8. Conway Springs, Doffing 31-114, Misak 12-56, A. Pauly 5-10, Bre. Vancuren 1-2, Wood 2-(-4).
Passing—Silver Lake, K. Kruger 7-10-1-115. Conway Springs, Wood 5-8-1-62, Martin 0-1-0-0.
Receiving—Silver Lake, Dewey 4-84, Malloy 1-21, Hermann 1-6, Roberson 1-4. Conway Springs, Barkley 2-42, A. Pauly 1-18, Bodine 1-6, Seiwert 1-(-4).