Because I was covering McPherson High’s football game at El Dorado in Week 5, I missed the first meeting of the season between Little River and Canton-Galva, which became an immediate candidate for Kansas Game of the Year as the Redskins outlasted the Eagles, 60-52.
I heard from many people about the game and how unfortunate I was to miss such an instant classic.
But with McPherson High knocked out of the postseason after the second round, I turned my attention to our remaining area teams. And when Little River-Canton-Galva, The Sequel, came to fruition, I couldn’t wait.
I knew there could be no way the teams could produce the conflagration of offense as the first game. The teams combined for more than 1,000 yards and 112 points. Given that game was in October when it was still warm and this game was in November when the feel-like temperature was in the high 30s, I just didn’t think the quarterbacks could throw as well and the receivers couldn’t catch as well with some of the feeling gone in the hands.
It took the first play of the game to set the tone. Canton-Galva’s Garrett Maltbie rocketed 65 yards for a touchdown and the Eagles were the first to celebrate.
For the most part, the Eagles seemingly were in control in the first half, twice mounting double-digit leads. But Little River came back in the second quarter to recapture the lead, only to see Maltbie throw a TD pass to Tyson Struber in the closing seconds to give C-G a 32-26 lead going into the break.
The break allowed the teams to catch their breath and C-G was the first to score in the third quarter, but Little River answered with a pair of scores before the period was over, but it was the Eagles in command 46-34 going into the final stanza.
Little River seemingly didn’t have an answer for the Eagle offense for the first 36 minutes. But it finally started to tighten up in the fourth quarter and back-to-back scores put Little River up 48-46. It was still 62-60, LR, when the killer play happened, an Eagle fumble that Grant Stephens scooped up and ran in for a touchdown to make it 70-60. The Eagles did claw back within 2, but sledgehammer Braxton Lafferty immediately raced 40 yards for a score and 76-68 lead.
Still, the Eagles had a final chance to gain a tie But the Little River defense came up with a stop and finally when everyone was able to exhale, the Redskins were moving on to Newton for the right to defend their state championship as they’ll be going against Meade on Saturday morning.
I commend both teams for an amazing show. For the Eagles, whose only 2 losses were to Little River, the play of Maltbie and Tyson Struber was beyond amazing. The courage shown by Maltbie was dramatic as the Little River defense pounded him over and over, but even in pain he kept getting back up and producing more, accounting for more than 550 yards of total offense. The sleek Struber showed why he’ll be playing next year for the Kansas State Wildcats as he was the purest athlete on the field with his combination of size and speed.
For Little River, Lafferty – the grandson of Little River legend Shane Cordell – just kept bringing his team back after an injury to starting quarterback Rylan Konen. Braden Young came up big in the return game, 2-point conversions and in receiving. This was the third straight week Little River had to overcome a double-digit deficit, which says a lot about its character.
Maybe an unsung difference, though, was the powerhouse interior of the Little River line. Kaden Schafer, Carter Holloway and Kyle Bruce – all seniors – wore down the Eagles as in the fourth quarter when the Redskins scored 42 points, Lafferty basically dipped in behind his horses and waited until they opened a hole.
I could have taken 8 straight weeks of watching Little River play Canton-Galva during the regular season and it would have been showtime every time. Both teams return many of their stars next year, so don’t be surprised if these teams match up twice again.