TMP holds off Cimarron for milestone victory
HAYS, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Thomas More Prep-Marian trailed Cimarron by three points when sophomore Kade Harris intercepted a deflected pass at the Bluejay 28-yard line. Harris, also the Monarchs' standout quarterback, returned the turnover to Cimarron’s 15 with 5 minutes, 45 seconds remaining.
Harris took a big hit, and Lewis Field Stadium quickly grew quiet. The Monarch players took a knee, and team officials briefly attended to Harris. Then, Harris, who lost a shoe on the play, rose and was able to walk to the sideline under his own power. The players showed support and joy that Harris was OK.
Harris had to miss a snap, but junior wide receiver Jace Wentling knew the game had shifted to the Monarchs. Six plays later, Wentling caught a four-yard touchdown pass from Harris and kicked the conversion for the game’s final points. TMP delivered back-to-back sacks from junior Kenton Ginther and freshman Kolton Hagans on Cimarron’s final drive for a milestone 16-12 victory on Friday.
“Tonight, I felt like that all the odds were against us,” Wentling said. “We are the underdogs coming into this game. Cimarron’s a great team … and they were getting a bit chippy in there, and that’s just football. It’s just going to happen.”
“And when Kade got rocked, we knew that he was going to get back up,” he added. “And when he came back over, that just made it all personal, and we were like ‘Yeah, we are punching this ball in, and we are going to score, and we are not going to let them score again.’”
TMP captured its sixth straight victories and improved to 6-1, 4-0 in Class 2A, District 7. The Monarchs have enjoyed its first winning season in nine years, and most victories since ’02. Cimarron (4-3, 3-1) took its first district loss since 2015.
“Bottom line, we had every opportunity to win that ball game tonight, and we didn’t,” Cimarron coach Mike Schartz said. “And they are a good football team.”
The Monarchs are 8-1 since Week 8 of last season; before then, TMP had an 8-20 stretch.
“It’s fun to be around this group of guys,” coach Jay Harris said. “They are a great group of guys, and it was a great atmosphere tonight.”
This year, the Monarchs are 3-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer. That includes the first victory against Plainville in more than 50 years. Two weeks ago, Wentling delivered a pick-six with three seconds left to beat district and league rival Ellis 28-21.
“This season has been a dream come true,” Wentling said. “All my guys in there, all my teammates, we have been working so hard in practice, and getting in the weight room during the summer, 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. in the summer, putting in all that work, and it’s paying off right now.”
Harris has coached in the Monarch program for five years, second as head high school coach. Assistants are former TMP great T.J. Gottschalk, Joe Dintino and new line coach Chris Corsair.
“Coaches getting together, being dedicated to the team, that helps a lot,” Hagans said. “And having a lot of athletes. It has been amazing, (Corsair) is a great coach and knows what he’s talking about.”
TMP had a big edge in the kicking game. Wentling kicked a 25-yard field goal for the lone first-half points and made an extra point. Cimarron took a 12-3 third-quarter lead on a 70-yard pass from junior quarterback Braxton Harrison to senior Seth Ridenour. Harrison tacked on a nine-yard TD run. Then, Wentling caught a 69-yard TD pass from Harris in the third. TMP’s motto is “focus.”
“We lost our focus, when we got behind like that,” coach Harris said. “And just kept reiterating to them, 'You have got to focus, everything is OK, focus back in on what we’ve got to do, and they did. They brought their focus back. They got their excitement back.”
Cimarron went 0 of 2 on conversions with a failed run and a blocked kick. Cimarron senior running back Tate Seabolt, with 2,936 career rushing yards, was out for the season after Week 4 with a leg injury.
“If we would have scored every point we were supposed to, it would have been tied, we would have been going to overtime,” Schartz said. “Those two-point conversions hurt us, and we turned the ball over inopportune times, and give credit to the Monarchs. I mean, they played hard and well-deserving tonight.”
After Harris' big hit, the Monarchs called five straight running plays. The team’s leader in multiple statistical categories, Harris delivered 26 carries for 79 yards. He completed five of 9 passes for 107 yards and two TDs.
TMP faced third-and-goal from the Bluejay 4, and called “X corner,” a play the Monarchs had used in previous games and practices, but not yet Friday. Wentling is the “X” receiver and told Harris to throw to his outside shoulder.
“We were setting up a big hitter right there,” Wentling said.
Schartz said Cimarron knew the play was coming. Ridenour matched up with Wentling in 1-on-1 coverage. Harris completed the pass, and Wentling raised his arms in celebration with 2:57 left.
“I was going to catch it,” Wentling said. “I just knew it.”
In its final possession, Cimarron ran 10 offensive plays and moved to the Monarch 39 with 23 seconds left. Overall, Harrison went 6 of 13 passing for 131 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He rushed 15 times for 76 yards a score.
“You knew they were going to have to throw the ball,” coach Harris said. “So ‘you guys cover, line pin your ears back, go get the quarterback.’”
TMP ended the threat with the Ginther and Hagans sacks.
“It took a lot of people to do it,” Hagans said. “But it felt great getting that game-winning tackle.”
After the game, Hagans went to the track and hugged up with his brother, Kaleb, currently playing football at Kansas Wesleyan. Kaleb, a ’19 graduate, was one of several recent former Monarch individual standouts who hadn’t enjoyed team success.
“It makes me feel like I am lucky to be on this generation of team, and just privileged,” Kolton said.
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