It seemed like Salina South and Bishop Carroll were meant to meet in the 5A semifinals.
Both teams have been ripping teams all season to reach this point, and the game did not disappoint as Carroll locked down defensively in the second half to run through the Cougars, 45-21 Friday night.
"My kids are just determined," said Bishop Carroll Head Coach Alan Schuckman. "They are the most determined group I've been around in a long time and each week they get better and better."
Bishop Carroll (12-0) heads to the 5A State Championship game against Bishop Miege (7-5), Saturday the 24th at Welch Stadium at Emporia State University.
Both teams were very evenly matched on paper, the edge for either team would be hard to find - save for only the experience for the Golden Eagles. They head to the state title game for the third time in six years.
"We have to close the deal," Schuckman said. "We have to get there to win one."
Cody Busby lived up to his hype in the semifinals, breaking out for a 30-yard touchdown run to open the game and take their first and only lead of the game. Busby was a problem for the Carroll defense all game.
"I thought he played really well for us tonight," said Sam Sellers, Salina South head coach. "He's been so good for us for four years and it's tough. He wanted to win one so bad and he came up short, but it wasn't for lack of effort."
Schuckman spoke before about how resilient his team is, and the exhibited that scoring two plays later when Zeke Palmer hooked up with Matt Denning for 59 yards down the sidelines and immediately return the favor, 7-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Bishop Carroll asserted itself on defense in the second, finally getting a stop against Busby - they were rewarded with a Palmer touchdown from one yard out, re-taking the lead just one minute inside the second quarter.
The last time the Bishop Carroll defense would break came on the ensuing drive, as Justin Stonebreaker, Mike Jones and Busby put together a solid drive and capped it off with a 10-yard Stonebreaker touchdown run. The 14-14 tie was the closest Salina South (10-2) would get to Bishop Carroll the rest of the night.
"Bishop Carroll is a heck of a team and I think they are going to get it done this year," said Sam Sellers, Salina South Head Coach. "I'm so proud of our kids - we had a fantastic season, and we just came us short tonight."
Jalen Hernandez rumbled in from 14 yards out nearing the end of the second quarter and looked like Bishop Carroll would take their 21-14 lead into the locker rooms before the Golden Eagles picked off Stonebreaker. A 28-yard field goal gave Carroll a 24-14 lead at halftime, hoping to push their momentum.
Salina South picked off Palmer in the endzone to begin the third quarter, pulling the Bishop Carroll momentum and then carrying it to their ensuing drive, busting off 48 in four plays before the Bishop Carroll defense wrapped up Stonebreaker twice on consecutive pass plays. That would be the end of Salina South's momentum at the end of the third quarter.
Bishop Carroll tacked on back to back scores; a 23-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Denning, his second, and then a 60-yard run from Tory Smith really put the game out of reach for the Cougars at 38-14 in the fourth quarter.
"We got two great running backs in Jalen and Tory, Matt Denning stretches the field and what else can you say about Zeke (Palmer)," Schuckman said. "And you know our running backs aren't running like that if our offensive line isn't making big holes for them. All week we were told how we weren't as physical as they were and they wanted to go out prove them wrong."