Despite battling for nearly three hours on a frozen football field, Blue Valley football coach Eric Driskell was not ready to leave the turf with his Tigers.
He circled the players and their families again and again in order to hug each and every senior and thank them for the legacy they will leave at Blue Valley. The Tigers were making their second state championship appearance in three seasons, and their first in Kansas Class 6A.
This time they fell short of the title, losing 27-14 to Derby on Saturday. The Panthers picked up their second title in three years Emporia State’s Welch Stadium.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our kids,” Driskell said. “They gave tremendous effort, and I am just sad that it’s over.”
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The Tigers took the field cautiously following a quick once-over by a makeshift Zamboni that attempted to break up the ice on the field. It appeared that they would need to gain their yards on the ground, which is right up their alley, even though they were missing leading rusher AJ Totta. He had season-ending knee surgery earlier in the playoffs.
Blue Valley, 10-3, rushed on nine of the 13 plays in its first possession and capitalized on a pass interference penalty in taking an early lead. Quarterback Colton McCumber capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown. It was his 16th of the season, which leads the team.
Derby answered four plays later with an 80-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brady Rust, but missed the extra point and trailed 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.
The Panthers quickly took the lead in the second with another big play by Rust, who connected with Kenyon Tabor for a 20-yard touchdown pass. Derby extended the lead in the third quarter when Rust found Kaleb Kelley for a 7-yard pass play for a TD. The defense kept the lead safe by holding Blue Valley scoreless on nine consecutive possessions after the first-quarter touchdown.
The Tigers snapped the streak midway through the fourth quarter. They recovered a fumble deep in Derby territory and cut the lead to one possession with a 20-yard touchdown pass from McCumber to Taylor DeBey. It was the eighth time the two had connected this season.
“It was exciting,” Driskell said. “The kids had been battling and the defense had been playing as much as they could, but they were on the field too much. We didn’t get much going after the first drive, and that was a huge momentum swing.”
The Tigers followed that with a blocked field-goal attempt, but Rust delivered the final blow with a 3-yard TD run in the final 2 minutes and finished the day with 309 rushing yards. The entire Blue Valley team had 78.