Here’s a preview of the Kansas Class 6A high school football state championship game:
Class 6A: Shawnee Mission East (11-1) vs. Derby (11-1)
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Most football coaches would not be thrilled about practicing on a national holiday. For Dustin Delaney, however, it’s a pleasant reward after the historic success his Shawnee Mission East team has had this season.
When Delaney leads his Lancers onto the practice field Thursday, they will be preparing to face Derby in the school's first state championship football game on Saturday. The two teams will play for the Kansas 6A championship at 1 p.m. at Washburn University in Topeka.
“That is my favorite practice of the year,” Delaney said. “I love it, and our kids are going to be excited for us. It’ll be great for the community.”
Delaney was brought in as the Lancers' head football coach after the unexpected departure of Chip Sherman last May. He came to SM East from Emporia High where the Spartans had a 9-2 record last season. In his three seasons at the helm there, his teams went 23-10 and won a regional title. Before that, he had served as offensive coordinator at Hutchinson High, which won a state title all four years he was there.
“At first, we were a little scared when our coaches left, but as soon as coach came in, you could see it in his eyes,” senior fullback Luke Taylor said. “He really believes in us, and he really means it. Everything he says, we all buy into.”
In his first season, the Lancers breezed through the regular season with an 8-1 record, won the Sunflower League title and entered the state tournament as the No. 2 seed out of the East region. Since then, they have rattled off three straight victories to advance to the championship game, their most recent a 37-27 semifinal victory against Olathe North.
“We had a group of kids that came in and believed in the message we were telling them, and we now we are going to the state championship,” Delaney said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Remarkably, the Lancers have done it without a single player leading the Sunflower League in any statistical category. Lately, they also have been playing without starting quarterback Christian Blessen, who has been limited to punting while battling an injury. Gunnar Englund has stepped up to the starting quarterback task for the Lancers throughout the playoffs.