EMPORIA, Kan.—Earlier in the week, leading up to Bishop Carroll’s state championship game against Shawnee Mission Bishop Miege, Golden Eagle head coach Alan Schuckman said Carroll was probably the best football program without a title in recent history. That can now be thrown out the window.
Carroll destroyed Miege 60-21 to win the school’s first football state championship since 1978. It wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.
It was apparent from the opening kickoff that Carroll wasn’t playing just a game against a team it barely knew anything about. This was a squad that was capturing what 32 teams before it couldn’t capture.
“We talked about how we’re not just playing for ourselves, we’re playing for the teams and the guys that came before us,” said Schuckman.
Many believed this team was the best Schuckman had ever coached. It featured a quarterback that has received national attention in Zeke Palmer, a wide receiver that works unbelievably well with him in Matt Denning and wrecking-ball-turned-running back in Jalen Hernandez. And a mauling offensive line to boot.
“Each day we had to go out and prove ourselves,” said Schuckman. “Miege is a great team, they play in a tough league, but I think people are starting to figure that we play some pretty good football in Wichita, Kansas.”
The Golden Eagle defense got the team off on the right foot with a forced three-and-out to start the game. After a five-play, 1:03 drive, Jalen Hernandez bolted into the end zone for the game’s first score to go up 7-0.
If only Miege knew the onslaught that was coming.
A little more than two minutes later, with Miege backed up against its own end zone, University of Kansas recruit Montell Cozart tossed a short pass, but it was tipped and intercepted. Michael Leonard came down with the ball six yards from the end zone and practically walked in for the second score of the game. It was Cozart’s first of two thrown interceptions on the day.
After one of Carroll’s great defensive stands of the game, the Golden Eagles got the ball back and drove to Miege’s 21-yard line, where Hernandez recorded his second and last touchdown of the day just a minute and a half into the second quarter.
“I’m proud of the way our kids responded today,” said Schuckman. “It’s been a season of dominance and that’s a credit to our kids and coaches.”
With two and a half minutes to play in the first half, Carroll’s Tory Smith ran it in from 12 yards out. Miege then came right back to notch its lone score of the first half to make it 27-7. Blake Schneiders hopped on a loose ball in the end zone to score with just more than a minute and half left. It was the only time the Stags responded all day, but it showed it was capable of big plays as it went 69 yards on four plays in under a minute.
Carroll didn’t care.
Forty-seven seconds later, Zeke Palmer hit Bryce Harvey for a 38-yard touchdown. It was his longest of the day and the first of two touchdowns for the senior. He threw for 206 yards and rushed for another 146, a total of 352 total yards on the day. The touchdown made it a 33-7 Carroll lead.
After that beauty of a play, the Golden Eagle special teams got in on the action with a recovered fumble on the kickoff. A few plays later, Palmer found Tory Smith for a 25 yard touchdown. The extra point from Daniel Ohm made the score 40-7 at halftime.
Carroll scored three touchdowns in just a little more than two and a half minutes to close out the first half.
“This is the best team I’ve ever been on,” said Palmer. “Coming into today our team knew we were going to win one. We put in the work during the offseason and in-season and the confidence showed out there today.”
The game was truly decided in the third quarter, when Carroll received the ball to start and drove 80 yards on 14 plays for a touchdown. The drive took more than seven minutes to complete as Carroll finally relinquished the ball with 4:51 left in the third.
Miege then let the kickoff drop and a Carroll player picked the ball up at Miege’s 37 yard line. Palmer just kept handing the ball off on a three and a half minute drive that was capped by a Denzel Goolsby touchdown from six yards out.
The Stags finally got the ball back with a minute and a half left in the quarter. Five plays later, Cozart coughed it up and Carroll returned it for the touchdown to make the score 60-7. Meige ran just five offense plays in the quarter.
Schuckman said earlier in the week that he thought a Carroll championship would validate the tradition of the school and program. Consider it validated.