Game of the Week: La Crosse headed to state
Published on -11/20/2011, 6:09 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
PLAINVILLE -- La Crosse High School junior fullback/linebacker Kip Keeley has been around the Leopard football team since he was one year old when his dad, Bill, took over as head coach. Kip hasn't seen the Leopards have a losing season in 16 years. La Crosse has won 10 or more games in five of the last six seasons and has made multiple deep playoff runs.
But 2011 produced several milestones. The Leopards advanced to their first sub-state championship game with last week's victory against Meade. Friday, La Crosse earned its first trip to a state title game with a 13-6 win against Plainville in the Class 2-1A sub-state championship game.
"We played this season for every Leopard who has made it really far in the playoffs, but has never been able to accomplish what we just accomplished," Kip Keeley said. "It's just bigger than us this year. When summer weights first started, everybody had it in the back of their minds that this is where they wanted to be."
La Crosse moved to 12-0 and will face Centralia/Wetmore in the Class 2-1A state championship Saturday at Fort Hays State University's Lewis Field Stadium. Centralia defeated Pittsburg/St. Mary's-Colgan, 24-10. Plainville, which was 3-6 last season, finished the year 10-2.
La Crosse has defeated Plainville three times in the last two seasons, including a 14-8 victory in Week 9.
"Pure excitement and enthusiasm," La Crosse third-year coach Jon Webster, a Leopard alum, said. "I am so proud of my team and my coaches and the town and the school. This isn't just 35 guys, two managers and six coaches. It's a whole community. It's something that has been brewing for 15 years since 1997 when Coach Keeley took over as the head coach, and it's steam-rolled."
The Leopards picked off four Plainville passes to bump their season total to 34 interceptions, and break the state record of 32 set by Olathe North in 2000. Sophomore Marshall Jay picked off a pass in the first half, Keeley had an interception to set up the second touchdown, and senior Austin Webs ended the Cardinals' final drive with an interception with 2:52 left.
"Every time the momentum started to shift our way, they made a big play to steal it right back," Plainville coach Joe Simon said.
As well, senior quarterback Tayler Stull continually broke tackles all contest and finished with 22 carries for a game-high 98 yards and two touchdowns, a 19-yard run in the second quarter and a 9-yard run in the fourth quarter.
"What gives us the edge over most teams is our ability to handle adversity," Webster said. "We talk about it everyday."
Plainville had trouble moving the ball against the Leopards' defense -- and had several costly miscues. The Cardinals had 59 penalty yards in the second half.
As well, both squads had to overcome two controversial rulings, one an inadvertant whistle that nullified a long run on a fake punt for the Leopards. The second one came when Plainville senior Andrew Casey (six tackles for loss, four sacks, fumble recovery) forced a fumble on a sack of Stull. But the official appeared to blow the whistle before the Cardinals had a chance to recover.
"We had a lot of mistakes tonight," Simon said. "Turnovers hurt us, penalties, missed tackles on defense."
Plainville scored first on a 30-yard touchdown run by junior Harrison Gilliland with 8:20 left in the first half for a 6-0 lead. La Crosse scored on its next drive and kept the Cardinals out of the end zone the rest of the game. La Crosse has allowed just 18 points in three playoff wins.
"We have tremendous faith in our DBs and our front seven," Webster said.
Plainville senior quarterback Kyle Becker, playing with a hand injury that he suffered in the first quarter, finished 3-of-7 for seven yards with three interceptions.
His third one came on a pass to Casey that would have secured a first down. Instead, Webs outjumped Casey and collected his 10th pick of the season.
"That was one of the biggest plays of the game," Simon said.
After the turnover, La Crosse gained a first down and ran out the clock before celebrating a win that was 16 years in the making.
"It's taken too long, but it's here, and we are happy to be here, and we are going to celebrate all night long," Webster said.