DODGE CITY — The Kansas Shrine Bowl was contested on Saturday for the first time in a city west of Hays.
Welcome to western Kansas football, as a stiff wind had a big affect on the 46th annual Shrine Bowl at Dodge City’s Memorial Stadium.
Facing a strong southerly wind in the first quarter, East’s offense struggled to gain any yards, and then three different punts were knocked down by the wind, allowing the West squad to take over twice in the East half of the field. On the latter possession, West took advantage for a 19-yard scoring strike from Great Bend’s Koy Brack to McPherson’s Gabe Hoover, sparking an eventual 26-7 West rout — the largest margin in a win for the West since 2011.
“It’s just fun,” West quarterback and MVP Caleb Grill said of playing in the game and getting the win. “Getting this experience, this once in a lifetime opportunity, and doing it with the guys I had, it’s just an even better experience because of how well we combined. We became a unit in just a little more than a week.”
After a little bit of early trouble on offense, West used a constant running game (215 yards on 41 carries), a handful of clutch passes (two TD throws from Maize’s Grill) as well as a late trick play and 13-yard touchdown run from Salina Central’s Taylon Peters to seal the win. Peters ran for 68 yards on 14 carries while Pratt’s Travis Theis ran for a game-high 73 on 14 carries.
But that early score for West set the tone for the rest of the game.
“I thought whoever won that toss with that wind was going to have an advantage,” Topeka High and East head coach Walt Alexander said. “When I saw the flip, I was so upset because that’s probably the biggest play of the game. It really was, because of the kicking game and field position — we fought from behind the entire first half.”
Though, East’s defense held the West to just 16 total yards through the first two possessions of the game, and the first quarter was getting closer and closer to ending, which would switch the wind to East’s favor.
Instead, a punt from East’s 7 went just 32 yards, and the West offense was set up once again. Four plays later, Brack hit Hoover on a slant for points.
“I thought (East) did a good job milking most of the clock with that win in their face, and I was worried we weren’t going to get our shot,” Hesston and West head coach Tyson Bauerle said. “So I thought that was a good tone-setter for us, and relaxed our guys a little bit and let them play. I think that led to our second and third touchdowns, too, because it was similar (run-pass option) action on the backside.”
Those scores came in the final 6 minutes of the third, the first on a 13-yard pass from Grill to Phillipsburg’s Trey Sides. The second came after East muffed a kick-off return and set West’s offense up at the East 27-yard line — a play Alexander called the second most-important play of the game.
Three plays later, Grill found Valley Center Larry Wilson for 17 yards and West went into halftime up 20-0.
“We attacked the edge with Larry Wilson a little bit, and that opened up a lot,” Bauerle said. “We were confident in our inside zone play. We were close to breaking it a few times.”
While the West offense found its rhythm, the West defense was dominant throughout the first half, holding East to 53 yards on 31 first-half plays.
East’s only offensive spark came with 5 minutes to play in the third when Shawnee Mission South’s Jack Roberts capped an eight-play, 54-yard drive with a 5-yard run. East finished with just 130 offensive yards.
“Seeing guys flying around, and play as hard as they do, it’s just incredible,” Bauerle said of his defense. “It’s a joy to watch, even as an offensive coordinator.”
The West defense — led by a beefy front line — had five sacks, an interception and held the East to 1 yard per carry (34 rushes, 34 yards).
“It was fun to unleash them a little bit — we never really fully let that happen in practice. We went thud and things like that,” Bauerle said. “But we thought we had some pieces. We were hoping and confident that tonight could happen, but it was good to see that it did.”
Notes: West now leads the Shrine series 28-16-1 … Roberts was the East MVP, throwing for 94 yards and scoring the lone touchdown … Scott City’s Wyatt Hayes played outside linebacker for the West and had one tackle.