It made it worse that there wasn’t a single play or moment in Scott City’s 20-7 victory on Saturday that could have changed the result for Conway Springs.
The Cardinals have built their pedigree by winning in the trenches. They have never been the largest team, nor the fastest, but what Conway Springs takes utmost pride in is being the tougher team.
That’s why disbelief hung in the air after watching Scott City (11-1) invade their home field and end their season with their first loss at their own game, the same style that has won the Cardinals all seven of their state titles.
“They equalized us up front,” Conway Springs coach Matt Biehler said. “All year we’ve been able to get that 2- or 3-yard push and our backs have been able to hit the hole hard. Scott City just played tough up front and that was where the difference of the game was.”
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Scott City, the defending state champion, will be host to Beloit in the Class 3A semifinals Friday not because it did anything spectacular, although Sloan Baker’s 27-yard touchdown catch in the end zone could qualify.
It won because it solved the riddle of who has the ball in the Conway backfield better than any of its predecessors, as the Cardinals had marched to 11 straight victories by averaging 44 points per game before Saturday.
“We told our line, ‘You’ve got to sacrifice, so our linebackers can make the plays,’” Scott City coach Glenn O’Neil said. “They won’t get much credit, but that was the key, them taking up two blockers up front.”
Conway Springs ran the ball 52 times, yet only six of those carries gained more than 10 yards and none went for more than 19.
It was a game dominated by Scott City, but the Cardinals had four possessions — four quality opportunities — to tie the score after the Beavers grabbed a 14-7 lead just before halftime on the connection from quarterback Trey O’Neil to Baker.
Two lengthy drives stalled abruptly after entering Scott City territory, but Conway’s best chance came when it recovered a fumble at the Scott City 34-yard line with 11:02 left in the fourth quarter.
Since it no longer had control of the line of scrimmage, the Cardinals took to the air for yards and came away with three straight incompletions after a short run and turned the ball over on downs.
“A lot of times we capitalize on turnovers,” Biehler said. “We had a couple times where it seemed like we had the momentum going, then they would take it back with a big play.”
The biggest play came on Conway Springs’ next possession, still trailing 14-7, when the Cardinals attempted a double reverse flea flicker that Josh Dugan hurled 40 yards into the air but it was Scott City’s Trey O’Neil that came down with the pass.
Five plays later, O’Neil delivered the game-clinching lob pass to Chris Pounds in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown and 20-7 lead with five minutes left.
It was the first victory over Conway Springs for Scott City, which lost at Shinn Field in 2007 and 2011 in the playoffs.
“You could look in our huddle at the end and see tears of joy and disbelief that it happened,” Glenn O’Neil said.
It was a battle between two successful programs that featured overachieving teams, but there was no consolation in that for Conway Springs after the game.
“We wanted more,” Conway senior Alec Stanley said. “It stings, but we gave it all we had and we still did more than everybody expected us to do this season.”
SC—O’Neil 2 run (Stewart kick)
CS—Fisher 1 run (Koch kick)
SC—Baker 27 pass from O’Neil (Stewart kick)
SC—Pounds 19 pass from O’Neil (Stewart kick failed)
Rushing—Scott City, Wy. Krop 14-124, O’Neil 5-21, Yager 5-15, Baker 3-1, Strine 3-9; Conway Springs, Wood 24-80, Fisher 15-72, Stanley 4-35, Finstad 6-5, Brozovich 3-3.
Passing—Scott City, O’Neil 8-14-0-152, Meyer 0-1-0-0; Conway Springs, Finstad 1-5-0-6, Dugan 0-1-1-0.
Receiving—Scott City, Wa. Krop 3-92, Baker 1-27, Pounds 1-19, Strine 1-7, Yager 1-7; Conway Springs, Gillespie 1-6.