You got the feeling that something special was about to unfold when some guy dressed as the pope showed up at Hummer Sports Park.
Perhaps it was fitting. Two Catholic schools, the Bishop Miege Stags and Topeka Hayden Wildcats, were meeting to crown the Kansas 4A Division I champion on a Saturday afternoon that felt more like late September than late November.
Bottom line: Bishop Miege had a starring role in the legends of the fall.
For the first time in school history, the Stags won 13 games. Equally important, Miege never lost. Its latest triumph, a hard-fought 42-35 victory over Topeka Hayden for the championship, gave the Stags the fifth state title in school history, and the first since 2009.
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“I love these guys,” said Miege senior quarterback Ryan Willis. “This is what we have prepared for.
“It wasn’t easy. But it was worth it.”
How good was Miege this season? The Stags knocked off opponents in Kansas 6A and Kansas 5A. And, in their march to a championship, they outscored opponents 214-42 in the playoffs.
Could Miege be the best team in any class in Kansas? Topeka Hayden quarterback Jacob Head even wondered that.
“If they’re the best team in all classes, then I think we’re the second best,” Head said. “We played with them the whole entire game and had a chance to win if some things went our way.”
The Wildcats, who finished 11-2 and were denied their fourth title trophy, pulled within a touchdown when Head connected with Mason Dodd for a 7-yard touchdown pass with 35.6 seconds remaining. But Miege’s CJ Grunhard recovered the onside kick, and the Stags ran out the clock.
Speaking of the clock, Miege frequently pounded teams this season — enough so that they found themselves on multiple occasions when the running clock was enforced because of the lopsided nature of the score.
Not this time.
The Stags led only 21-14 at halftime. That was when Miege coach Jon Holmes challenged his squad.
“I looked the kids in the eye and said, ‘What are you going to do?’ We came out and made plays when it mattered,” Holmes said. “Finishing 13-0 is a huge deal.”
The final statistics were mind-boggling.
Willis, who has committed to Kansas, threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns, the last one coming with 6:02 remaining to give the Stags a 14-point advantage.
His ace receiver, sophomore Jafar Armstrong, caught eight passes for 222 yards. That included a 76-yard bomb that pushed the Stags ahead 28-21 with 3 minutes left in the third quarter.
“Ryan has a great arm. I just tried to make plays,” Armstrong said.
Topeka Hayden’s Head made his share of things happen. He threw for 423 yards, and his 80-yard touchdown throw to Connor Schumacher tied the game at 28-28.
Miege’s explosive ways, though, took a toll on the Wildcats. The Stags scored 14 points in 124 seconds in the second half and took the lead for good when junior halfback Dawson Downing scored on a 5-yard run late in the third quarter. Downing scored three touchdowns and totaled 154 yards in 26 carries.
“We showed even when we’re put in a tight spot that we can come through,” Downing said.