Against the same team, and on the same field as the year before, Blue Valley’s heartbreak endured.
A year after losing the Kansas Class 6A state title game to Derby, history repeated itself on Saturday. The Tigers, 12-1, fell 17-14 to an undefeated Derby team on a field goal with 27 seconds remaining.
“About 98 percent of the rest of the state wishes they could say that (they played in two straight championship games),” Blue Valley head coach Eric Driskell said. “These guys put a lot of time and vested interest into everything we do for years, and that hurts a lot. But they have done things that very few teams get a chance to do.”
Still, the pain was raw for Blue Valley, as running back Will Evans halfheartedly carried the state runner-up trophy back to the postgame huddle, and several others wiped tears from beneath their face masks.
Derby, 13-0, took over possession with 4 minutes remaining and drove down to the Blue Valley 4-yard-line, setting up a chip-shot field goal for kicker Blayten Tullis with 27 seconds on the clock. The Tigers had 21 seconds to work with on the ensuing possesion, and 78 yards standing between them and the end zone. But Derby’s Tanner Igo intercepted quarterback Matt Dercher’s pass with 12 seconds remaining, sealing the deal.
For a significant portion of the game, the Tigers had the upper hand. They took a 14-6 lead into halftime, and held Derby to 4 of 15 third-down conversions and a zero percent success rate on fourth-downs (0 for 4).
But Derby’s defense stepped up, shutting Blue Valley out in the second half.
The Tigers finished with 229 total yards, and only 4 rushing yards. With starting running back Evans playing hurt, Blue Valley was limited almost exclusively to production through the air.
“They did a good job of bringing seven in the box and not letting you run the football, which made us throw the ball a little bit,” Driskell said. “(Evans) was just banged up, and we did the best we could.”
Dercher was 24 of 48 for 225 yards, with a touchdown and three interceptions.
Derby would also rely on its aerial attack. With 3:04 remaining in the third quarter, wide receiver Kenyon Tabor ran a stop-and-go route on the sideline, lost his defender, and brought down a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dan Dawdy that tied it at 14-14.
It had been a defensive matchup from the start, with neither team finding rhythm early, but Blue Valley took a lead into halftime on its own last-minute score.
Dercher launched the ball to the end zone with 5 seconds remaining in the first half, and 6-foot-5 Harrison Van Dyne leaped over his defender to snatch the 32-yard touchdown pass as time ran out. With the extra point, Blue Valley took a 14-6 lead.
Although the Tigers’ flashiest play was the jump ball nabbed by Van Dyne, it was Blue Valley’s defense that put it in solid position in the first half.
Derby took an early 6-0 lead on Dan Dawdy’s 11-yard pass to Michael Littleton. The Panthers started their next drive at their own 2 and went three-and-out, with Blue Valley forcing a punt into the wind that only traveled a net 12 yards. Five plays later, Alex Totta bulled into the end zone from one yard out for Blue Valley’s first touchdown.
The Tigers finished the season 12-1 and as Kansas Class 6A runners-up.
“Just hats off to our kids,” Driskell said. “They played tremendously hard. They have nothing to hang their heads about and I’m proud of them.”