NEWTON — The Canton-Galva Eagles nearly didn’t last to the half of Saturday’s Eight-Man Division I Championship Game at Fischer Field against the St. Francis Indians.
Down 36-0, the Eagles scored nine unanswered touchdowns to claim a 66-36 win at Fischer Field in Newton.
It was the biggest comeback in the history of eight-man championship games in Newton and possibly one of the biggest in Kansas football championship history.
The duo of Landon Everett and Tyson Struber led the comeback. Everett hit 10 of 19 passes for 197 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Everett also rushed for 148 yards with four touchdowns. Struber had eight catches for 188 yards and three touchdowns. Brayden Collins had 99 yards rushing with two touchdowns.
“We still believed,” Everett said. “We’re a second-half team. We do tons of conditioning. That’s why we hang in there in second-half games. I think we were a little nervous at the beginning. We haven’t been here in a while. None of our class has ever been here. I think we got it figured out in the second half. It was just do what we do. We’re good at it and we did it.”
“We always knew we’re a second-half team and we got a pretty good talk in the locker room at halftime,” Struber said. “We knew in order to win that game, we had to give it everything we had. We don’t have a game next week. We had to leave it all on the field. We went into halftime with a little momentum and that helped.”
Struber, a sophomore, added a pair of interception.
“I give credit to our defensive coordinator,” Struber said. “They’re not a throwing team. We talk about if they pass, we have to create interceptions. If the balls in the air, we have to come down with it. We need to come back bigger, faster and stronger.”
“We tried to keep it even-keeled as possible,” Canton-Galva coach Shelby Hoppes said. “That’s why we didn’t play as well as we could have in the first half. … We zoned in and got things taken care of. We knew who are playmakers are and it’s my fault that we didn’t get the ball in their hands. In the second half, we did and it worked out.”
For St. Francis, 12-1, Brady Dinkel had 33 carries for 161 yards and a touchdown. Shadyron Blanka had 23 carries for 52 yards and three touchdowns.
The Indians lost Jayce Nader and Jesse Baxter to injury.
“We ended up with two guys with major injuries,” St. Francis coach Nick Fawcett said. “When you have a roster of 17 players, that is pretty big. (Nader) had a concussion. We just continually shot ourselves in the foot. We had some self-inflicted errors. I told the boys we can’t do that and expect to win a state championship. We could have played better, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.”
The Indians lose two starters.
“We’re going to hit the weight room, come back bigger and stronger and get back to Newton next year,” Fawcett said.
The Eagles opened the second half with defensive stops that set up long passes from Everett to Struber and a 60-yard Everett run. Canton-Galva missed its first two two-point conversion attempts. Struber ran in the third.
Everett capped a long drive with a nine-yard run with 6:45 remaining, putting the Eagles in the lead. Struber ran in the two-point conversion. Struber picked off a pass two plays later, setting up a 27-yard Everett run.
A Brandon Huff pick set up a four-yard Brayden Collins run. Collins added the two-point run. Collins added a one-yard touchdown run with 1:47 to play.
St. Francis nearly ended the game at the half, taking advantage of five turnovers to run up a 36-0 lead. Blanka scored on four runs. Dinkel and Nader each added a touchdown run. Adam Krien scored on three two-point conversion runs.
A 40-yard pass from Everett to Struber set up a one-yard Everett run with 1:39 left in the half. An Indian fumble set up a 26-yard pass from Everett to Struber with 58 seconds left in the half. Struber added a two-point run to get the Eagles within 22 points.
Canton-Galva ends the season 13-0, winnings its first state title.