Down 27-6 to start the fourth quarter, it looked bleak for Salina South in the Class 5A State Championship game against Blue Valley at Welch Stadium in Emporia.
The Cougars would rally, and had a chance for the lead, but a two-point conversion pass fell short, and South lost 27-26 to the Tigers on Saturday.
In the first half, Blue Valley established dominance early. On the first play of the game, Blue Valley’s Brandon Lee intercepted a pass from Justin Stonebraker at the Cougar 29. On the next play, Blue Valley scored on a 29-yard pass from Logan Brettell to Mikey Henson for the 7-0 lead just 10 seconds into the game.
The Cougar offense went three-and-out on its next possession, but the defense held Blue Valley on downs at the Cougar 8-yard line. The South offense would continue to struggle moving the football, but the defense limited Blue Valley to just a field goal over the remainder of the first quarter, coming off an interception at the South 14, even though the Tigers never had the ball on their own half of the field.
Down 10-0 late in the first, Zach Nachbar returned a kickoff to the Tiger 49 yard line. The South offense hit high gear, as the Cougars scored on a five-play drive, punching in a touchdown on an 18-yard run by Mike Jones to pull within 10-6 with 10:51 to go in the first half.
The two defenses continued to play tough until late in the first half, when the South defense started to wear down. Blue Valley drove five plays for 64 yards and a touchdown on an 18-yard run by Brettell to push the lead to 17-6.
Stonebraker would be intercepted for the third time on the next play, this time by Hunter Murray. Blue Valley needed just six plays to score again, this time on a five-yard run by Brettell, and led 24-6 at halftime.
In the second half, Blue Valley would open with a drive that moved deep inside Cougar territory before South forced a fumble, which was recovered by Cade Calvert at the South 10 yard line. However, the Cougars would give the ball back to Blue Valley following a failed fake punt attempt.
The Tigers would cough the ball up immediately, as John McNabb recovered a fumble on the next play, but South gave it right back on a fumble on the next play, which was recovered by the Tigers at the South 17.
The Cougar defense would hold the Tigers to just a field goal on the ensuing drive, as Blue Valley took a 27-6 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was owned by Salina South. The Cougars needed just three plays to score after the Blue Valley field goal. Mike Jones ripped off a 51-yard run to cut the deficit to 27-13 with 11:45 left.
Blue Valley would turn the ball over on downs on its next drive at the South 19 yard line. The Cougars took the ball and the momentum, mounting their longest drive of the game. South went down the field on 8-plays over 81 yards, scoring on a 17-yard pass from Stonebraker to Mitch Roets to pull within a score at 27-20 with 5:05 left.
South would attempt the onside kick and recover it with Zach Nachbar at the Blue Valley 49. Nine plays later, South scored again on a three-yard run by Mike Jones to pull within one at 27-26. The Cougars went for two and the lead, but a reverse pass from Nachbar to Roets fell short in the end zone with 1:13 left, leaving Blue Valley with the lead.
The Tigers would go three-and-out after recovering the onside kick, and punted the ball back to South at their own 18 yard line. The Cougars would complete a 31-yard pass on fourth and 18 from the 10, moving out to their own 41. The Cougars had just two more plays. On the final play, Stonebraker hit Roets on the right sideline. Roets broke a couple tackles, but couldn’t get a pitch away and was tackled at the Blue Valley 28 yard line to end the game.
Stonebraker finished 7-for-16 passing for 160 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. Jones had 125 yards rushing on 15 carries for three touchdowns. Roets led Cougar receivers with three catches for 69 yards and a score, while Nachbar had three catches for 68 yards.
Logan Brettell was 13-for-19 passing for 147 yards and a touchdown, along with 74 yards rushing and two scores. Chance Nelson had 99 yards rushing on 18 carries. Mikey Henson had seven catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Blue Valley outgained South 375 to 344 in the game after outgaining the Cougars 223 to 90 in the first half.
Salina South finishes the season 10-3 and Class 5A State Runner-Up.