The third-seeded Fowler High School football team had to feel pretty good about its performance in the first half of the eight-man state championship game against top-seeded Sedgwick County Saturday at Vibber Field, as the Grizzlies trailed the Cougars by only a 14-8 deficit.
But the second half was all Sedgwick County as it took advantage of several Fowler mistakes and the Cougars went on to win 44-8.
"The kids never gave up and they played hard," said Fowler coach Mark Van Sickle. "I've never been more proud of a group that I've coached in my entire career. We did a lot of good things this year."
For Sedgwick County, it was its fifth straight state championship. That sets a record for eight-man football and they are tied for second in all-time consecutive titles in all classifications.
The Cougars had the ball first and they proceeded to march 80 yards on 18 plays for the game's first touchdown. All but one yard on the drive came on the ground and Beau Parker capped off the drive with a 12-yard run.
Sedgwick County went for two and it was successful as Fabian Lopez went into the end zone and the Cougars led 8-0.
Fowler's Damian Romero then returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to the Sedgwick County 35. The Grizzlies were able to get into the Cougars' red zone, but the drive stalled at the 8-yard line and Fowler turned the ball over on downs.
Sedgwick County punted on its next possession and Fowler took over at its own 11.
The Grizzlies went on a eight-play, 89-yard scoring drive. Senior quarterback Luke Bitter had a 45-yard run to put Fowler on the Sedgwick County side of the field. Bitter ended the drive with a 29-yard touchdown run, and he also scored on the two-point conversion to tie the score at 8-8 with 3:53 left before halftime.
But the Cougars had a good return on the Fowler kickoff, and a personal foul put Sedgwick County at its own 49. Thirteen plays later, Jared Ehmke threw as 9-yard scoring strike to Terrence Heath. The two-point conversion attempt was no good and the Cougars led 14-8 at halftime.
Fowler looked to score on the first possession of the second half as progressed to the Sedgwick County 27. However, the Grizzlies could get no further and they again turned the ball over on downs.
The Cougars made the Grizzlies pay as Parker scored on a 3-yard run eight plays later. Lopez again scored on the two-point conversion and Sedgwick County stretched its lead to 22-8.
The Grizzlies were unable to move the ball on their next possession, and Bitter's punt was blocked with the Cougars recovering at the Fowler 30.
Parker scored his third touchdown three plays later as he went to the house on an 18-yard run. Lopez was again successful on the two-point play and the Cougars had a 30-8 lead at the end of the third quarter.
After another Fowler three-and-out, Sedgwick County went on a 10-play 84-yard scoring drive. Ehmke and Heath hooked up again, this time on a 25-yard pass. Lopez scored again on the two-point conversion to increase the Cougars' lead to 38-8.
Sedgwick County's Kaleb Fowler recovered a Grizzlies' fumble on the 10 and the Cougars scored on the next play with Dalton Carlson running for the touchdown. They were unsuccessful on the two-point conversion.
Fowler looked to have another chance to score as Romero returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to the Sedgwick County 5. But the Grizzlies turned the ball over again as Carlson intercepted Bitter's pass.
Fowler mustered only 126 yards of total offense, with all of it coming on the ground. Bitter led the running game with 74 yards on 11 carries. Jackson Bates had 37 yards on nine carries, and Josh Daniels had 22 yards on 17 carries.
Bitter attempted only three passes with no completions.
Sedgwick County had 372 total yards with 334 coming in the running game. Parker led all rushers with 239 yards on 44 carries. Fowler had 48 yards on eight carries, Tate Goddard had 25 yards on two carries, and Carlson had 23 yards on four carries.
Ehmke completed four of six passes for 38 yards. Heath was the leading receiver with two catches for 34 yards.
Fowler finishes the season with 12 wins and one loss. The Grizzlies lose only five seniors to graduation and Van Sickle is hopeful for the future.
"We have a good group returning," Van Sickle said. "I hope this group can learn from the leadership and the things that this group of seniors brought to us. So the future looks good."
Sedgwick County 44, Fowler 8
Sedgwick 8 6 16 14 — 44
Fowler 0 8 0 0 — 8
SC — Parker 12 run (Lopez run), 3:34
F — Bitter 29 run (Bitter run), 3:53
SC — Heath 9 pass from Ehmke (pass failed), 0:52
SC — Parker 3 run (Lopez run), 5:40
SC — Parker 18 run (Lopez run), 2:12
SC — Heath 25 pass from Ehmke (Lopez run), 6:50
SC — Carlson 10 run (run failed), 5:50