The scrum converged near the edge of the goal line, a small pile of white jerseys and red shirts fighting for a loose football with a state championship on the line.
As referees moved to separate bodies from the mound, one player popped up, the football tightly clasped between his arms — Kearney junior Ethan Luft.
A game-winning recovery.
A state-championship winning recovery.
Kearney dethroned the Webb City dynasty Friday with a 17-14 victory in the Missouri Class 4 championship game — a win preserved when Webb City fumbled the handoff exchange on the 1-yard line with 10 seconds remaining.
Luft pounced on it.
“Before the play, I was just praying for some sort of miracle,” Luft said. “I don’t think a lot of people even knew it was on the ground.
“Honestly, it was the best experience of my life.”
A memorable day for Kearney, too.
The Bulldogs, 14-1, won their fourth state championship in program history — this one perhaps the unlikeliest of them all.
Webb City, the five-time defending champions, had not lost in 42 games. It had lost only once since 2010, a span of 89 games.
That ended Friday.
Twice, really. Kearney forced a fumble earlier in Webb City’s final drive, and the referees initially signaled that the Bulldogs had indeed recovered the fumble — the correct call, according to replays. But after a brief conference in the middle of the field, the referees changed the ruling, allowing Webb City to extend its drive.
The next fumble rendered that a moot point.
“There were just so many ups and downs in that final drive — you thought it was over, then it wasn’t, and then it was again,” Kearney coach Greg Jones said. “Just a (wave) of emotions to end a game.”
That mirrored the majority of the game. Kearney led 10-7 at halftime, and senior tailback Marcus Harris scored on a 1-yard plunge — his 28th touchdown of the season — to extend the advantage to 17-7 with 1:05 left in the third quarter. Trying to respond, Webb City senior Keaton Burroughs fumbled while running into the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
Webb City turned the ball over four times.
In the first impact play of the game, Kearney senior Brandon Gonzales supplied a punishing hit on Webb City punt returner Kaleb Potts, prying the football loose as Potts fell to the ground. Potts never returned to the game.
The Bulldogs turned the fumble into the first points of the game. After they marched down the field, senior quarterback Logan Hinck connected with Aaron Mello for an 8-yard touchdown.
“You don’t ever want to see an athlete get hurt, especially a kid, but that lick was the tempo-setter in the game,” Jones said.
Kearney got on the board once more in the first half — courtesy of a 44-yard field goal from Dawson Goepferich — and that, too, followed a Webb City fumbled punt.
The first two forced turnovers turned into points.
The last one turned into a state championship.