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Little River’s Lafferty, West Defense Come up Clutch in 21-20 Shrine Bowl Win

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By Rick Peterson Jr., KSHSAA Covered

 

HAYS, Kan. – Tony Crough had Little River’s Braxton Lafferty pinned as a possible breakout star in the Kansas Shrine Bowl. 

The more the Hays High coach watched the Eight-man standout in the West practices, the more Crough thought Lafferty would turn heads at linebacker.

“We said: Watch out for Braxton,” said Crough, head coach for the West squad. “There’s more people on the field than he’s used to having, so we didn’t know what it’d look like, but once he practiced a little bit and got comfortable, he showed that he’s got some special skills.

Those skills were on display in the 50th edition of the Shrine Bowl, with Lafferty logging a game-high 12 tackles and sealing a 21-20 West win with a late sack on Saturday at Fort Hays State’s Lewis Field Stadium. 

“Just was playing my heart out,” said Lafferty, a Fort Hays State signee. “I didn’t want to leave anything out on the field. I wanted to show people that Eight-Man people are players too. We can play with the big dogs.”

Lafferty helped the West hold off the East’s fourth-quarter comeback. He blitzed off the edge and notched a sack on a 4th and 17 at the West 45 on the East’s final possession. Lafferty recorded 3.5 tackles for loss. 

“We were talking in the huddle that we weren’t going to blitz, and then coach called a blitz, and my eyes lit up,” said Lafferty, who was a part of a state championship and two runner-up teams at Little River. “I was ready to go. Caden Miranda pancaked the tackle and it opened up a gap for me to go.”

Lafferty was one of several West players who stood out on the defensive side. Hays’ Evan Lind and El Dorado’s Jalen Rice each had interceptions to set up touchdowns. Andale’s Riley Marx and Beloit’s Grady Seyfert were among other key playmakers on defense. 

“It was impressive,” Crough said of the defensive effort. “(McPherson coach Jace Pavlovich) had a good plan put together, and we executed it really well. We knew we were going to have to get some takeaways. They had some big backs, a big offensive line over there, good quarterbacks. We knew if they got their run game going it could be trouble.”

Quarterbacks Keenan Schartz (Manhattan) and Keller Hurla (St. Marys) were named Most Valuable Players for their respective sides. Both are headed to Washburn.

Schartz completed 16 of 18 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown and also had a rushing TD for the West. His father, Manhattan coach Joe Schartz, was an assistant for the West. Manhattan went 13-0 last year and captured the Class 6A state championship. 

“The Shrine Bowl has always been something I wanted to do, just because my dad played in it in ‘93,” Keenan said. “It’s a big thing in the Schartz family. Coming in, I didn’t really understand, but by the end of the week I definitely understood what this game means. It’s just been a blast, this whole experience.”
 The West’s Keenan Schartz (Manhattan), left, and the East’s Keller Hurla (St. Marys), right, pose for a picture with Kansas Shrine Bowl Board of Directors President Donnie Bohannon after Schartz and Hurla were named Most Valuable Players for their respective teams.

The East trailed 21-6 after three quarters but crept within a point after a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. After a 1-yard TD run from East’s Eric Butler (Olathe Northwest) made it 21-20 with 5:33 left, the East went for the lead, but Hurla’s pass fell incomplete on the two-point try.

The decision to go for two took a tie out of the equation after last year’s game in Pittsburg ended in a 10-10 stalemate.

“(The decision was) easier because our short snapper got hurt,” said East head coach Clint Rider of Blue Valley Northwest. “But I told the guys if we got close we weren’t going for the tie. We don’t do that on the East side. We were going to go for two if it came down to it. We ran the best play we had left, and the (West) played it really well.”

The West struck first when a 23-yard pass from Schartz to Hesston’s Jake Proctor set up a 1-yard TD run from Salina Central’s Kenyon McMillan with 3;36 left in the first quarter. 

Lind, who represented Hays High along with teammate Bryce Salmans, set up the West’’s second TD after picking off a pass from his linebacker spot and returning it 24 yards to the East 20. Schartz hit Circle’s Ty Smith over the middle for a touchdown on the next play. 
 Hays High product Evan Lind hauls in an interception with help from Andale’s Riley Marx during the 50th Kansas Shrine Bowl on Saturday at Fort Hays State’s Lewis Field Stadium. 

Marx, who won a fourth straight 3A state championship with Andale last year, helped create Lind’s pick.

“I saw where the ball was going, and (Marx) was right in the lane, perfectly,” Lind said. “It just bounced off his chest and I was right there and took off.”

“That’s what he did (at Hays High),” Crough said of Lind. “He had three touchdowns this year. He’s just kind of a ball magnet. Evan got picked up (for the Shrine Bowl) a month ago. We felt like at Hays High we had five or six guys that were capable of playing in this game, and Evan was one of them. He got his opportunity and took advantage of it.”

The East scored late in the second quarter on a 11-yard pass from Hurla to Shawnee Mission Northwest’s Malik O’Atis but didn’t convert the PAT. The West led 14-6 at halftime. 

Rice came up with a huge play in the third quarter, picking off a pass at midfield and returning it 46 yards to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Schartz.

“He’s going to be a really good college linebacker,” Crough said of Rice. “He’s what a lot of those linebackers are now – ex-running backs. He’s quick, he’s athletic, he can tackle.”

The East dominated the fourth quarter. Hurla found Girard’s Luke Niggemann for a 4-yard touchdown pass and the East tacked on the two-point try on a pass from Axtell’s Isaac Detweiler to Troy’s Jerrit Norris to make it 21-14 with 8:51 left. 

After a defensive stop, the East marched 59 yards and punched it on Butler’s plunge before missing the two-point try. 

The East outgained the West 281-181 but were hurt by three turnovers. 

“We were moving the ball quite a bit throughout the game,” Rider said. “We gave them some short fields, and missed a red zone opportunity – those two things hurt. 

“Our kids just battled. Keller (Hurla) came in at quarterback, and, gosh, he’s just a competitor and played a great game. We just came up a little bit short but our guys are fighters and they’re great men of character.”

Hurla finished 9 of 11 for 103 yards through the air with two touchdowns and rushed for 48 yards on 14 carries. 

Crough said it was a week he’ll cherish. 

“Hays is just such a special place,” said Crough, a Garden City native who is entering his sixth season as Hays High coach. “A lot of people don’t know about it, especially when you get past Salina and Manhattan. We felt like we could put our best foot forward and show what a great community and great facility we have. It was a great crowd here. 

“For me, playing in the Shrine Bowl and having a camp here and coaching in the game here, it’s just kind of full circle. It was real special for me and for this community.”
 Barry Sanders gives a thumbs up during a pregame ceremony to induct him into the Kansas Shrine Bowl Hall of Fame. 

Sanders on hand for Hall of Fame induction 

NFL legend Barry Sanders was in attendance for his induction into the Kansas Shrine Bowl Hall of Fame along with his high school coach at Wichita North, Dale Burkholder. 

Sanders and Burkholder were recognized in a pregame ceremony. 

Sanders, who played in the 1986 Shrine Bowl, won the Heisman trophy at Oklahoma State before establishing himself as one of the greatest running backs of all-time in a 10-year career for the Detroit Lions. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

“I really cherished being a Shrine Bowl participant,” Sanders told the crowd. “I watched the game growing up and I feel like I was really fortunate to be picked to play in the game. This is such a fantastic atmosphere. I can’t believe it’s been so many years since I participated in it.

“I look back with such fond, fond memories of being able to participate in it. It’s been a tremendous day and I’ll remember this forever.”

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