Heads turned as the ruckus grew.
A mob was forming in the center of Washburn’s Yager Stadium, but no one in Salthawk blue was celebrating.
It was a very odd scene, indeed, as Shawnee Mission West celebrated its 19-14 victory in the Class 6A title game and coronation as state champion, a ceremony that’s been reserved for Hutchinson seven times since 2004.
Losing one felt foreign.
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“I haven’t felt that since 2003,” Hutchinson coach Randy Dreiling said. “It hurts watching them celebrate, knowing that could have been us.”
Four turnovers, a turnover on downs and the inability to contain SM West tailback Brett Sterbach, who ran for 273 yards, doomed the Salthawks.
Hutchinson could manage only 50 yards and failed to protect a 14-6 lead in the second half.
“I just didn’t call a very good game in the second half,” Dreiling said. “I wasn’t able to get us in the end zone and it came back to kill us.”
Hutchinson will look back on three critical moments.
1. Looking to extend a 14-6 lead just before halftime, Dreiling called for a trick play that had backup quarterback Braydon Wells in the backfield. The junior took the pitch and lofted a pass in the end zone that was tipped and intercepted to end the threat.
“We just couldn’t get into a routine,” junior offensive lineman Cole Cruz said.
2. Riding the momentum of a defensive stand on the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, Hutchinson’s offense sputtered to a stop and was forced to punt with 5:39 left. It wouldn’t get the ball back.
“I thought we’d get into double tights and march it down 99 yards and score; game over,” Dreiling said. “I really thought that would happen.”
3. Injuries have forced 11 starters out of at least one game this season, including a season-ending injury to linebacker Blake Simms.
“This one hurts a lot,” senior Will Smith said. “I’m just happy our team pulled together through all the injuries we’ve had this year and made it this far.”
The situation left Hutchinson perplexed.
Players believed no one outside of their team thought they were capable of reaching another title game. But they also grew up believing it was their duty to send the championship home to Hutchinson.
“It’s a pretty strange feeling,” said sophomore Colby Turner, who scored both of Hutchinson’s touchdowns. “It just hurts a lot.”
As fans spilled onto the field after the conclusion, a parent of a future Viking introduced his kindergartner to the star of the game.
Sterbach looked the child directly in the eye and said: “Work hard every day and believe in yourself and the team and you can get right here where we are.”
More than a few kids growing up in Hutchinson have heard that one over the last decade.
|SM West (12-1)||6||0||13||0||—||19|
SMW—Sterbach 75 run (Reed kick failed)
H—C. Turner 3 run (Lemons kick)
H—C. Turner 1 run (Lemons kick)
SMW—Verdini 1 run (Verdini pass failed)
SMW—Maloney 19 run (Reed kick)
Rushing—SM West, Sterbach 34-273, Maloney 10-63, Hobbs 1-23, Spiller 1-7, Ward 2-3, Verdini 1-1, Team 1-(-1), Powell 1-(-2); Hutchinson, Brower 12-93, Higgins 3-43, T. Turner 13-29, C. Turner 8-27, Smith 5-26, Likes 3-26.
Passing—SM West, Verdini 6-17-0-79, Sterbach 1-1-0-11; Hutchinson, T. Turner 0-2-1-0, Wells 0-1-1-0.
Receiving—SM West, Sterbach 1-27, Spiller 2-25, Maloney 1-21, Wade 2-11, Ward 1-6.