During its seven-or-so-year run now as one of the elite teams in Class 3A, then 2-1A, then 3A and now 2A, the Phillipsburg High School football team has been known for one key factor.
The Panthers always seem to have someone ready to step up and into a bigger role. Often times, Phillipsburg’s second team is the second-best squad on the field.
So, during the preseason when head coach J.B. Covington said, “We look pretty decent, but kind of hard to tell against our own guys,” he probably should have been a little more confident.
Decent might have been an understatement for the 2018 Panthers. On Saturday, the Panthers have a shot to earn the school’s second state championship in school history, facing off in the 2A state title game against Riley-Riley County at Salina Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
“We feel like we have the talent there,” Covington said during the preseason. “We just have to get guys in the right place and see what they can do.”
All the Panthers did was run to a 12-0 record, and are in the state title round for the second time in four seasons, continuing a stellar run of success that essentially started in 2013. Year after year, the Panthers have continued to climb in the record books — the school’s deepest playoff runs, record number of wins, first state championship, etc., etc., etc. Since the start of the 2013 season — all playoff seasons — Phillipsburg has just eight losses (five coming in the playoffs). That run includes four appearances in the semifinal round and one state championship (in 2015). Furthermore, you have to go back to 2009 to find the last time the Panthers had more than three losses. The Panthers just keep retooling and 2018 was no exception.
“We lost a lot of big people, but we have a lot of people stepping up,” said senior Jonathan Hunnacutt during Week 1 of the season. “Over the last few years, we’ve been able to put young guys in to get more reps. We’re looking pretty good.”
Saturday, the Panthers can put another stamp in their history books. With a win, Phillipsburg can secure its first undefeated state championship. The Panthers will have to hold off a 10-2 Riley County team that knocked off previously unbeaten Humboldt 46-16 in the semifinals last week. The Falcons are making just their third appearance in a state championship game (no wins), but the first since 1993.
Phillipsburg features a multi-threat offense that runs through quarterback Trey Sides and running backs Treylan Gross, Cha’Ron Ellis and Nathan Moon. The Panthers have made a habit of putting up big numbers by halftime — save for a 25-24 win against Conway Springs — and the defense has been nothing short of dominant.
The Panthers will face a stern test in Riley County, which features quarterback Garrett Harmison (1,930 passing yards, 23 touchdowns 10 interceptions) and running back Mikey Waggoner (1,147 rushing yards, 22 touchdodwns). Among Harmison’s big targets are Wyatt Earhart (546 yards, six TDs) and Westyn Claar (307 yards, six TDs), along with Tristan Kulp (503 yards, three TDs).
Phillipsburg also has a valuable weapon in Hunnacutt. While serving as a defensive end, Hunnacutt also is the team’s record-setting kicker. Earlier this season, Hunnacutt hit a 39-yard field goal that put him in the record books for most kicking points in a career, passing Olathe North’s Joe Garcia with his 217th kicking point. That number has since climbed, and on Saturday, Hunnacutt has a chance to earn the state’s record for career PATs. He is four away from tying Buhler’s Ross Heide, who hit 198 from 2009 to 2011.