By NICK McQUEEN
It was a banner year for the Phillipsburg High School boys.
Not only did the Panthers do what no Phillipsburg football team has done this past fall. But members of that football team also helped catapult the Panthers in May to their first Class 3A state track and field championship.
It's one of the HDN's top sports stories for 2014.
The Panthers' 3A track and field title came down to the final race of the state meet at Wichita's Cessna Stadium. In a neck-and-neck battle with Beloit, the Panthers scored 69 points, securing the points needed by winning the 1,600-meter relay.
Stuart Lennemann, now a senior who also won the 200-meter dash, ran the third leg of the relay and gave the Panthers a big boost. Then, since-graduated Trey Ellis finished it off to secure the gold medal. It allowed Phillipsburg to surpass Beloit's 64 points and hoist the first-place trophy.
"We work really hard," said Ellis, who also took third in the 400-meter dash in 50.98 seconds, after the state meet. "We are just blessed with some speed. We have Stuart Lennemann, which he is super fast. It makes our job really easy."
The Panthers had gold in the 200 and two relays with a host of other medals thrown in. Eric Townsdin stepped in and ran the 100-meter dash, and ended up finishing fourth, and was fifth in the 200, and ran a leg of the Panthers' 400-meter relay team, which secured the title.
"He only ran the 100 like four times I think, this year," Lennemann added of Townsdin. "And he placed fourth at state. So that's pretty good."
Lennemann also was second in the 100.
In addition, Grant Wickham battled a quad injury, but finished third in the triple jump with a leap of 43 feet, 8.25 inches, and he was second in the long jump at 21-9.5. Hunter Kohler also scored with a seventh-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles.
This fall, Lennemann played an integral role for the Panther football team, which itself reached new heights.
First, the Panthers secured the first 10-win season in school history, all the while making the program's first appearance in a sub-state championship game. The Panthers finished 10-2, though it ended in a disappointing way in a 22-21 loss to Brookville/Ell-Saline.
The Panthers had driven nearly the length of the field in the closing minutes of the game, but fumbled at the goal line in the closing seconds, and turned the ball over. It was a disappointing finish, but it didn't take away from what the Panthers had a accomplished in their first season in Class 2-1A.
A week earlier, the Panthers secured the 10-win season by defeating Oakley for the second time, 48-12.
"It's very special. We've worked really hard all year. It's just really exciting to do this for the first time ever," Lennemann said after the Oakley win. "I think it's pretty good. First time in our school history that we made it this far in the playoffs -- 10 wins -- usually we get stopped right before it."
Lennemann, one of the Panthers' biggest playmakers, ended the season with 1,478 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. He had eight games with 100 or more rushing yards. He was named to the HDN All-Area Super 11 team released recently, along with senior teammate Luke Jacobs, the Panthers' best offensive lineman and a defensive end.
A run-heavy offense, Phillipsburg had nearly 4,000 rushing yards and 52 rushing touchdowns. Its two losses came to MCL foe Norton and the sub-state championship loss to Ell-Saline. The record included an exciting double-overtime victory against Salina-Sacred Heart in the first round of the 2-1A playoffs.