Just two minutes before halftime, the Canton-Galva High School football team were trailing 36-0, and chances are, it would've been the end of it. Down 36-14 at halftime, Canton-Galva coach Shelby Hoppes gave his Eagles the wake-up call they needed.
NEWTON— The Eagles overcame that large deficit by scoring 66 unanswered points, earning them its first-ever 8-man Division-1 State football Championship title in school history after 66-36 win over St. Francis High School on Saturday morning.
The Eagles were down before, but not like this. St. Francis brought more physicality on the ground as the offense rushed 61 out 69 times, led by its quarterback Brady Dinkel. The Indians took advantage of the Eagles' five turnovers committed in the first half, which resulted in a 36-0 lead with less than two minutes before halftime.
"Starting out, we didn't match their physicality," Tyson Struber said. "We knew they were a physical team—probably the most in the state. We definitely realized we have a really good offense, and we just needed to settle down, stay confident and do what we do best. We didn't care if they were physical or not. We just went out and played ball. "
The Eagles finally created a spark late by committing turnovers of their own, including a forced fumble and interception by Brandon Huff, and another interception later on in the second half by Landon Everett.
After Everett connected with Struber on a deep-ball throw, he punched one in for the Eagles' first touchdown of the day. About 40 seconds later, Everett found Struber again for a 26-yard touchdown pass before halftime.
Even when the Eagles showed a little life at the nick of time, Hoppes still reminded them of who they are and how they got to where they are.
"He kind of got into our butts a little bit and said if 'you don't believe that we can still come out of this game on top, then you shouldn't be there,'" Everett said. "That pretty much set us straight."
As dominant the Eagles have been all year, averaging 55 points a game on paper, but one thing for sure by the eye test, the Eagles never put their feet off the gas. It was nothing four quarters of full throttle. According to Struber, who led the Eagles with 218 receiving yards and three touchdowns, conditioning played effectively in their favor.
"Going into halftime, we had a little bit of momentum and scored two touchdowns before the half," Struber said. "It got a little chippy by our coaches and preached to us to how we're a second-half team, and we're known for being a second-half team. We might come out strong in the first half, but we will come out stronger in the second half. He told us in order to win this game, and you got to give your blood, sweat and tears you've been working for all spring and all summer. I definitely give all the props to him and the whole catching staff."
The Indians were out of gas as the Eagles defense shut them out in the second half while putting up 66 unanswered points led by the Everett-Struber duo. Everett connected with Struber for two more times for a 56-yard, and 60-yard touchdown passes. All of a sudden, the Eagles were down 36-26 going into the fourth quarter. The Eagles added 40 more points in the fourth quarter alone. St. Francis was not only stunned because of its breakdown but couldn't keep up with the Eagles' fast tempo performance. Everett finished 10 of 19 for 197 yards and three passing touchdowns. He also rushed for 148 yards and four more scores.
"We just played our game," Everett said. "You just got to stay in mode, and you can't get out of it or get too comfortable. We kept pounded and never slowed down."
Canton-Galva finishes the year 13-0 while St. Francis ends its season at 12-1.
McPherson County showed up and showed out.
The Canton-Galva community was not the only towns that painted Newton red, white and blue. The whole McPherson County came out and filled the bleachers as they all witnessed a historic moment.
"It's unbelievable how the community showed up," Everett said. "We probably have one of the best communities around. It's unbelievable how everyone showed up and cheered us on. I wouldn't want to play for another school. It was awesome."
Canton-Galva is the first team in the McPherson County to win a state football title since 1999 and marks the ninth state championship won by a Mac County team, (5 Little River, 2 Moundridge, 1 Smoky Valley and 1 Canton-Galva.) Predominately a basketball area, football for the last two seasons has worked its way back to promises in the county areas.
This is only the beginning
Canton-Galva will graduate seven seniors (Everett, Kinser Colgin, Cyler Johnson, Andre Patton, Mason Reedy, Nick Pearson, and Jay Nightingale) on the roster and they all made their mark for the past three seasons under Hoppes from 4-5 team, to sub-state runner up to now holding the title the best 8-man football team in the state. For the returning starters that include Struber, Huff, Brayden Collins, they expect to continue to build a winning tradition for the Eagles.
"We started a new program here," Struber said. "We did a full 180 to being a winning program. We're going to work hard a be bigger, faster and stronger, and we expect bigger things next year."
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