The toughest loss for a high school football team to endure is a setback in a state championship game. That thought was never far away from the minds of the seniors on this season’s Shawnee Mission East squad.
“None of us wanted to have that feeling again, watching the seniors and the way they felt,” said SM East senior quarterback Gunnar Englund, referring to the Lancers’ loss in last year’s state title game. “None of us wanted that feeling. We were just bound to win this one.”
That resolve was evident throughout the Lancers’ 33-14 victory over Hutchinson in the Kansas Class 6A championship game on a warm Saturday afternoon at Welch Stadium.
SM East forced an early turnover that led to the first touchdown of the game. When the Lancers trailed 14-13 midway through the second quarter, they put together an eight-play, 80-yard drive that gave SM East a 19-14 halftime lead.
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Whenever SM East needed to make a play, somebody on the roster stepped up. It was like that all season, said SM East coach Dustin Delaney. It is a big reason the school finished the season with a perfect 13-0 record.
Junior running back Wyatt Edmisten and Mike Bamford both credit the leadership provided by the senior class.
“I am just so glad I could be with these seniors,” Bamford said. “The senior class has been a blessing to all the underclassmen. They are great to all of us. They are great role models. I am going to remember them forever.”
Edmisten and Bamford benefited from an offensive line that was led by seniors. SM East’s offensive approach is old-fashioned, smash-mouth football.
Englund only threw seven passes — two of them touchdown strikes to senior Charley White. One resulted in a 36-yard touchdown pass, the other a 22-yard touchdown pass.
One reason those pass plays were open was because Hutchinson had to honor the run. The Lancers rushed the ball 53 times. Edmisten led the way, carrying the ball 32 times for 142 yards. Bamford carried the ball five times for 45 yards.
“We are a physical team,” Edmisten said. “We like to punch it down their throats. Every once in a while we get that deep pass.”
Edmisten definitely appreciated the seniors up front who opened holes for him all season.
During the postgame celebration, featuring Lancers celebrating with teammates, classmates and family, it was hard for them to put into words their emotions on winning a state championship.
Edmisten, though, found a moment of clarity when he talked about the offensive line.
“Well, the center is William Kaiser,” Edmisten said. “He is a beast out there. Left guard William Amrein is also a beast. Left tackle James Woolridge has heart. He is smaller then everybody and he goes out there and plays as hard as he can on every play.
“The last senior on the line is right guard Devin Price. He is incredible. He and I have a really good bond.
“The juniors coming back, William Kost, Stephen Gill and Jeff Heath, are all going to be really good next year.”
SM East molded a championship team the way most title teams are built — they relied on each other.
“We were all clicking,” Englund said. “The defense caused some turnovers. They played well. They shut down their running back. It was a great game by everyone.”