Meade rallies to win 2-1A state crown
By CONOR NICHOLL
On Oct. 12, the Meade High School football team defeated Leoti-Wichita County by 47 points. On the way home, Buffalo senior quarterback Chris Hardaway found out his grandfather, Warren Hardaway, had died.
"I dedicate every game to him, because I love that man very much," Hardaway said.
On Saturday, Hardaway provided lasting memories when he engineered a remarkable comeback in the Class 2-1A state championship game at Fort Hays State University's Lewis Field Stadium.
Hardaway threw two touchdown passes in the final 2 minutes, 58 seconds and the Buffs defeated Centralia/Wetmore 28-25 for the title. The game-winning score came on a 24-yard pass from Hardaway to junior Jett Little in the back left side of the end zone with 36 seconds remaining.
"I honestly don't know how we came back and won that," Little said. "This is incredible. I still can't believe it. It hasn't sunk in yet."
Meade won its second state crown in three years after it defeated Pittsburg/St. Marys-Colgan in 2010. In each season, the Buffs lost in Week 1 and then won 12 straight contests. Meade coach Scott Moshier has won 122 games in 22 years as a head coach. Moshier recalled just one game, a late '90s contest when he coached at Hoxie, that had such a dramatic comeback. However, Saturday's game had much more on the line.
"It doesn't get very much sweeter than this," Moshier said. "It is just unbelievable."
Centralia, the defending state champions, was looking for its third crown in four years. The Panthers saw their 21-game winning streak end and finished 12-1.
"We just needed to make a play, and we couldn't get that play," Centralia coach Larry Glatczak said. "You always wish that you could get that one play, whether it's an interception or a fumble. Hats off to them. They are a heck of a football team. Hardaway is a nice football player. He made plays -- he made plays at the end, and we didn't. That's what it came down to."
In a rare matchup of two single-wing teams, Centralia took a 25-14 lead with 4:44 left when junior quarterback J.T. Rosine rushed for a 27-yard score. Rosine collected 23 carries for 145 yards and two scores and completed 2 of 8 passes for 32 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Junior Sam Steinlage, who suffered a knee injury in last week's victory versus Lyndon, came back with 16 carries for 96 yards and a TD.
"He is a player," Glatczak said of Rosine, who finished with 1,880 rushing yards this fall. "He is a football player. There will be a lot of colleges smiling when they see this kid play."
After the Rosine score, Meade transitioned to its fast-paced spread offense. The Buffs are traditionally known for its slower-paced ground-and-pound attack that collected 355 rushing yards per contest entering Saturday. However, the Buffs practice the spread often. It's a offense called "jiggy right blue" that Moshier learned from veteran Buhler coach Steve Warner.
Moshier believes that if Meade was a throwing-first squad, Hardaway could have tossed for 2,500 yards.
"We talk about preparation and opportunity and stuff like that and why we do this," Moshier said. "Sometimes, it's boring, yes, but we want to keep working at this and when the time came, it was right there."
Before state, Hardaway completed 62 of 95 passes for 1,093 yards with a 17/4 TD/INT ratio and rushed for 1,034 yards and 16 scores. Moshier labels the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Hardaway the team's "little field commander." In the six games after his grandfather's death, Hardaway accounted for 18 TDs.
"This has been tough on him, and this has been something that he wanted to do for his team and for his grandfather and he was able to do that," Moshier said.
When the Buffs go spread, Hardaway calls all the plays at the line of scrimmage, a position he enjoys.
"I may give suggestions, but Chris is completely in charge," Moshier said.
Down 11, Meade quickly went 62 yards in nine plays and covered 1:45 of the clock. Hardaway, who finished 8 of 18 passing for 85 yards and two scores and rushed for a team-best 112 yards, finished the drive with a 3-yard pass to Little.
"We all just knew that we had to try to dig deep and try to find something to make us want to win that game," Hardaway said. "We all had to count on each other. I counted on my line to block for me and my wide receivers to finish their routes and I found them."
Meade tried an onside kick, but Centralia recovered. After a Buffs' 15-yard penalty, Centralia took over at the Meade 38-yard line. Three plays gave the Panthers a 4th-and-4. Centralia had executed a perfect pooch punt earlier in the game and tried again. This time, Meade's 6-foot-9 senior end Randy Friesen blocked Rosine's kick. The Buffs took over at their own 44-yard line with 1:36 left.
On 3rd-and-7, Hardaway found Friesen for a 27-yard gain down the right side.
"We were just trying to keep them in front of us and make them drive down the field," Steinlage said. "Take as much time off the clock as we could. We couldn't get it done."
Two plays later, officials called Hardaway for intentional grounding when he tried to spike the ball from the shotgun. Meade runs from the shotgun and a legal spike can only occur when the quarterback is under center. The Buffs lost a down.
"We are never under center," Moshier said. "So we have just always (spiked) it from the short shotgun and that's a no-no, and we forgot."
On the next play, a third-and-15 from the 24-yard line, Hardaway lofted a pass in the back of the end zone for Little. He had gotten behind Panther junior Devin Rempe.
"Chris and I, we are best friends," Little said. "We get each other, and we know where we are going to be. Things just clicked at the end there. That really wasn't my route, what I was supposed to run.
"I just tried to find an open spot where Chris could give me the ball and he ended up getting me the ball," he added. "I was just praying that I wasn't out of bounds. I saw my feet down in the end zone. I was just like, 'Thank you God.' "
Centralia had a chance, but a 53-yard pass to Rempe was negated because of a penalty. Then, the Buffs picked off Centralia and ran out of the clock, completing a stunning comeback. Hardaway wore a smile as he celebrated with his team and town, but started crying when he thought of his grandfather.
"It just means a lot being able to stick this out and win these for him," Hardaway said.