2-1A title: Centralia too much for La Crosse
By CONOR NICHOLL
Last season, the Centralia High School football lost an 11-point lead in the final 4 minutes, 44 seconds against Meade in the Class 2-1A state championship game.
The Panthers wrote 4:44 on their board as a constant reminder. Through the summer, senior running back Sam Steinlage said the sour finish "pushed us a little bit" and put a chip on Centralia's shoulder.
Centralia rolled through its regular season, then delivered a near-perfect playoff run.
On Saturday, the Panthers redeemed last season's finish and completed a historically great season with a dominating 61-0 victory against La Crosse for the 2-1A state crown at Lewis Field Stadium.
"You don't ever expect that," Centralia coach Larry Glatczak said. "I could see these kids, they had a goal, they weren't going to lose. They weren't going to lose no matter what happened, and they came out and got better and better in the playoffs, and it really showed how impressive this bunch is."
Since 2-1A was formed in 1985, it marked the first shutout and easily the biggest margin of victory in a state game. The previous best was a 40-7 victory by Pittsburg/St. Mary's-Colgan in 2003.
"It surprised not only me, but a lot of people around here," senior quarterback J.T. Rosine said. "It was pretty special."
Centralia came five points away of the 2-1A scoring record set by Atwood in 1990. Atwood's mark was the Kansas 11-man mark until Silver Lake tallied 82 in the 3A title Saturday against Beloit.
"It still amazes me how much we scored," Cetnralia junior lineman Joey Ferron said. "Even shutting them out, I know that's what our goal was, and doing a record."
Centralia held a 549-108 yardage edge, led 7-0 after the first quarter, 29-0 at halftime and 49-0 after three quarters.
The Panthers pulled the starters with 9:47 left in the contest to loud applause. Centralia and Meade have alternated the last five 2-1A crowns.
"We wanted to go out winners," Steinlage said. "The senior class has put a lot of time and effort in, and it feels pretty good."
La Crosse surpassed expectations and finished 12-1 with the second state berth in school annals. The first came in a 20-14 overtime loss to Centralia two years ago.
"I told the kids, it's going to be awhile before we realize how good this year was," La Crosse coach Jon Webster said. "All we have left with is the sour taste from today, and in a couple of weeks, we are going to be able to look back and say, 'We were a 12-1 team, the seniors were the winningest class in La Crosse high school history.' "
Centralia, the No. 1 ranked team all season in the statewide media poll, was a heavy favorite after it returned nine offensive and 11 defensive starters. The Panthers made a statistical case for one of best small-school teams in Kansas history.
"We would like to think so, but it's hard telling," Steinlage said. "There have been a lot of good teams, but we'd like to compare ourselves to be up there."
The Panthers had an average margin of victory of 56-7 in the playoffs. The record-breaking 2007 Smith Center team had a playoff average margin of victory of 57-4, but had five postseason contests, not four like Centralia. The 2006 Smith Center team held a 52-7 average playoff margin in '06 en route to a title, according to preppowerindex.com.
"This team has to be very high up there," Glatczak said.
Centralia's closest contest was a 16-0 Week 1 victory against St. Marys and it outscored opponents 660-67.
"They ran through their schedule as good as anybody ever has in a season," Webster said. "I don't try to get wrapped up at looking at all-time bests, but they are by far the best team this year, and they deserve the accolades they get. That's a really good football team."
Centralia received the opening kickoff, and its single-wing moved the ball 80 yards in 13 plays and collected a 7-0 lead on an 11-yard run from junior fullback Trevor Mars. The Panthers continually gained extra yards on second and third efforts and broke tackles.
"We knew we had to come out in the first drive and get the tough yards, shove it down," Rosine said.
"It has to do with their speed and their strength," Webster added. "It's just a combination of them being really good athletes, and just them being a really good football team."
With 66 seconds left in the first quarter, junior defensive back Darrian Turner suffered a leg injury and missed the rest of the game. However, junior backup Wyatt Vandorn came in, finished with eight tackles, second-most on the team, and picked off a pass.
"You could see his eyes are about this big," Glatczak said, motioning a deer in the headlights look.
"My eyes are about this big," Glatczak said, with a larger deer eyes look. "But what a game for Wyatt to come in and play that. Just tremendous."
La Crosse junior quarterback Jack Garcia finished 5 of 17 of 36 passing with four interceptions. The Panthers' experienced secondary continually broke up passes and made five interceptions overall.
"Their back four played extremely well against us, we just couldn't get anything going deep," La Crosse senior Marshall Jay said.
Centralia moved the score to 14-0 at the 8:10 mark of the first half after a 32-yard run by Steinlage.
"We weren't very focused from the start, and it showed," Jay said. "It was just outside things that got to us, the stage and everything, the crowd just got to us."
Ferron set up the score with a blocked Garcia punt that gave the Panthers the ball at the La Crosse 40-yard line. Garcia hesitated before punting and Ferron got a hand on it for his first career block.
"I was confused," Ferron said. "I thought they were going to go for a fake and throw the ball, but he went to keep running forward."
Steinlage, who finished with 14 carries for 254 yards and four scores, also scored on runs of 60 and 57 yards in the second quarter and 55 yards late in the third quarter. The big plays all came through the right side.
"We pull the whole house," Glatczak said. "We send the whole team around the right side or the left side. It's a play that we run a lot of, and we have got a lot of horses in front of Sam, and they block so well. Sam reads so well, he cuts back so well."