SALINA, Kans.—High School football is officially back in the state of Kansas in 2012.
That was proven Thursday night in convincing fashion as Salina South, ranked No. 4 in the preseason Class 5A rankings, played host to Derby, which was ranked No. 3 in Class 6A, for an early season Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail showdown.
The defenses dominated the first half, which saw Derby claim a 7-0 lead at intermission. But the offenses took to the stage in the second half as the two teams combined for 34 second-half points and had the lead change twice before the Panthers punched a late touchdown across South’s end zone to earn a 27-14 season-opening victory.
“We ran into a very good ball club and very good ball clubs make you make mistakes,” Derby coach Brandon Clark said of the tipsy turvy type of game his squad played in the season opener. “We had a lot of mistakes offensively, I thought defensively we played pretty well because that is a very good team right there. That is a very good team right there, they are going to be one of the best teams in 5A this year.”
Salina South head coach Sam Sellers agrees with the whole sense of things being more difficult at the opening of the season, but both coaches also agree they are happy that game one is behind them and they can continue focusing on the remainder of the season.
“Mistakes and Game One, every team in America is going to make mistakes that don’t show up in practices and scrimmages. They don’t show up until the lights are on and everything is for real. Unfortuantely we just didn’t execute down the stretch like we needed to and they came out with the win.”
Both offenses struggled early on in the contest and neither squad cracked the scoreboard until Derby quarterback Chandler Shantz found the end zone after a 1-yard plunge, capping a 14-play, 66-yard drive with Derby’s first possession of the second quarter.
“Our defense is our heart,” Clark said. “They showed it because this offense (Salina South) is going to score a lot of points.”
The Panthers forced another Salina South punt on the ensuing possession and the two teams went into the locker room with the Panthers holding a 7-0 lead.
“Obviously we have been waiting for this for a long time,” Sellers said. “The kids have worked so hard in the off season they just can’t wait for that first game. Now we are in season mode, that is what we do this for.”
Both offenses took to center stage in the second half, and it was the Cougar offense that showed up first as South took the second half kick off and put together an eight-play drive, that covered 74 yards and was punctuated when quarterback Justin Stonebraker found Zach Nachbar for a 20-yard touchdown reception to knot the score, 7-7, with 6:52 remaining in the third quarter.
Derby’s Kellen Sims, who rushed for 104 yards in the contest, found the end zone on the ensuing possession for the Panthers, but Derby’s point-after attempt sailed wide, leaving Derby with a 13-7 lead.
South answered that score with a 4-yard scramble by Stonebraker, who finished the game with 72 yards rushing and 123 yards passing, with 9:00 remaining in the contest. Salina South’s Cameron Weishaar tacked on the extra point, giving South its first and only lead of the game at 14-13.
Derby, however, was not finished with its offensive explosion as the Panthers scored 15 unanswered points to finish the game.
The first eight points came when Shantz found Kellen Sims on a 30-yard touchdown reception, Nate Crossman tacked on the 2-point conversion run to give Derby a 21-14 lead with 6:50 left in the contest.
The Panthers finished off the scoring when Shantz scrambled in from 11 yards out with 1:08 remaining in regulation to seal the victory.
Sellers, was happy with his team’s performance, and even though the Cougars lost the season-opener, he was still happy to get a tough game out of the way.
“Well, you have to play them some time in the season,” Sellers said. “I really like playing the tougher ones early in the season. It keeps your practice really focused, they know they have to bring it game one, and I just wish we could have got it done.”
Clark pointed to the unity he believes his team shows as to how they earned the win.
“It was just familly, “ Clark said. “They had faith in each other and they came through. We have a tight family here and they love each other and trust each other. A lot of times when you have two talented ball clubs, when you have a tight family that belives in each other, they rally around each other and that happened tonight.”