Sometimes it can be harder to handle prosperity than it is to weather adversity.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Breaking from the gate this season with two convincing victories had Bishop Miege feeling pretty good about itself in early September.
Way too good, as it turned out.
As the Stags rocketed up to No. 2 in the Kansas Class 5A polls, many Miege players gained a feeling of invincibility — as if wins had become a birthright.
“We were riding pretty high after the first two games and, I don’t want to say we took a break, but we seemed to take it for granted we could win games,” senior wide receiver/defensive back Blake Schnieders said.
That façade cracked in week three, when Blue Valley Northwest stunned Miege 21-14.
Suddenly, the weight of expectations felt crushing for first-year coach Jon Holmes’ squad, and one loss beget a confidence-eroding four-game losing skid that had the Stags sitting at an unthinkable 2-4 entering district play.
“We were shocked, but we weren’t ready to give up by any means,” Schnieders said. “It hit us — especially when district arrived — that we had to get back on track, but that stretch of games humbled us, brought us down to earth and brought us closer together.”
Buoyed by a relatively soft district slate, Miege won a couple of games, developed the trust that had been absent in a few of those losses and started to resemble the team most had expected to see: The team that trounced BV North 35-8 and roughed up Gardner Edgerton 37-20.
There was a hiccup in the district title game against St. Thomas Aquinas, but the Stags had turned a corner and rode quarterback Montell Cozart and a stingy defense to the program’s first Class 5A championship game since 1982.
The reward is a date with powerhouse Wichita Bishop Carroll, 12-0, at 1 p.m. today at Emporia State’s Welch Stadium — a game in which Miege, 7-5, will be a heavy underdog.
It doesn’t bother the Stags that few are giving them a chance.
After all, how many people expected a 4-5 team in the regular season to be in this position anyway?
“It’s not much of a challenge to get our guys to believe they can win this game, because we wouldn’t be sitting here if they didn’t think we could win,” Holmes said. “We went out and beat an 8-1 Mill Valley team that was one of the hottest teams in the state. We beat a Blue Valley West team that had beaten us once and then beat an Aquinas team that also had beaten us once.”
Miege knows that Carroll has not won a game by a fewer than 24 points.
The Stags know the Golden Eagles won 10 of 12 games by at least 31 points.
None of that will matter come kickoff.
“I don’t know if they know much about EKL football, but we’ve played good teams week in and week out,” said senior center Ryan Sinkler, who also takes occasional snaps at defensive end. “They beat everybody by at least 24. We’ve got 24 seniors who’ll have something to say about that.”
Cozart, who has committed to Kansas, is hyper-athletic and has a laser-beam arm, while wide receiver McKinley Johnson and the rest of the Stags’ skill-position group have more collective speed than most of the teams the Eagles have steamrolled.
“They’re used to seeing a lot of the run game, but we pass a lot,” Sinkler said. “We pass to set up the run, but I’m confident in our athletes out in space against theirs.”
As a freshman, Schnieders made the tackle on the opening kickoff in the Class 4A championship game against Topeka Hayden — a 28-6 win that clinched the fourth state title in Miege history.
Now, he and the rest of the seniors have a unique opportunity to enter the program as Class 4A champs and exit with a Class 5A title.
“It’s the last game we’ll ever play together, because we made it our last game,” Schnieders said. “It’s not the last because it was taken from us, and it’s not the last because we didn’t play to the best of our abilities. We made it our last by making it all the way to the final. It’s going to be more of a celebration than a mourning.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.