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Ark City’s miraculous run comes to an end with 56-34 loss to St. James in state championship

Published: Nov. 27, 2020 at 10:02 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - For the first time since 2013, a new state champion was crowned in class 4A Friday afternoon at Gowans stadium, with St. James (8-4) defeating Ark City (7-6) 56-34 to bring home the program’s first title.

“It was really tough to lose this, we didn’t execute and they’re a really tough team,” said Ark City sophomore quarterback Gabe Welch, who threw for 285 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The championship matchup set a new record for the most combined losses between teams to meet in a state championship game, as both teams completed impressive postseason runs.

The Bulldogs finished the regular season at 2-6, and won four playoff games to advance to Friday’s championship for the first time since 1986.

“I told them I didn’t have the words to tell them how proud of them I was,” Ark City Head Coach Jon Wiemers said. “I think six or seven weeks ago most people didn’t think this would happen. We had faith in them and they believed in each other and us coaches.”

The Thunder knocked off six-time defending 4A champion Bishop Miege to advance to the state championship, fueled by an offense that proved to be as good as advertised Friday, producing 486 yards.

More than half of those yards came from senior standout La’James White, who rushed for a game-high 264 yards and led the Thunder with five touchdowns, including a 67 and 83 yard run.

“We knew we needed to tackle him and we didn’t tackle him and that’s the way it goes sometimes,” Wiemers said. “In a game like this, you have to make those plays.”

St. James was the first team on the board, as Thunder senior quarterback Dakota Burritt connected with junior Tyler Claiborne for a 36-yard touchdown on the opening possession to give St. James an early 6-0 lead.

The Bulldogs were quick to respond, as sophomore Wyatt Bahm capped off a 4-play, 65-yard drive with a 2-yard rushing score to give Ark City a 7-6 lead.

The Thunder responded on its next possession, with White scoring his first touchdown on a 6-yard run to take a 13-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Once again, the Bulldogs had an answer, and on the first play of the second quarter Welch scored from 3-yards out to give Ark City a 14-13 lead.

That would be the last lead of the game for the Bulldogs, as a 67-yard touchdown run from White marked the start of a 22-0 run for St. James.

“We had a really good game plan in the first half, we executed it in the first half and then the wheels fell off the bus on offense,” Ark City senior wide receiver Haden O’Toole said. “We just gave them too many opportunities on offense, they had the ball way longer than us and we didn’t capitalize.”

Ark City fumbled on two straight drives in the second quarter, and St. James capitalized on both of them to take a 35-14 lead with three minutes left in the half.

“We really try to stress ball security and we work on it and we had a couple in there we lost and we gave them a short field,” Wiemers said.

The Bulldogs were able to score much needed points with a minute left in the first half, as Welch rushed on a 1-yard sneak to cut the Thunder’s lead to 14 at the half.

“We didn’t get the job done and we had a few costly turnovers in the first half,” O’Toole said.

The Thunder completely took over the game in the third quarter, as a 83-yard touchdown run from White gave St. James a 21 point lead and the Thunder defense kept the Bull Dogs out of the end zone in the third quarter.

But Ark City wasn’t going down without a fight, and added on 14 points with less than four minutes left in the game. It wouldn’t be enough to bring home the program’s second state title though, as St. James cruised to a 56-34 victory in its first state title appearance.

“It’s bittersweet and I wish it didn’t have to end like that,” O’Toole said. “But I can’t say enough about the guys I played with. I love them all and it really shows what a team of guys that believe can do. No one expected us to be here.”

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