The St. Mary’s Colgan Panthers are making their first appearance in the Kansas Class 2-1A championship game since 2007 today and Colgan head football coach Chuck Smith said Panther coaches and players have been anticipating this game all season.

The St. Mary’s Colgan Panthers are making their first appearance in the Kansas Class 2-1A championship game since 2007 today and Colgan head football coach Chuck Smith said Panther coaches and players have been anticipating this game all season.

“This is something we’ve been hoping for since the first day,” Smith said. “It put a lot of pressure on the kids and we’d feel disappointed if we didn’t make it this far. We’re excited that we reached our goal.”

Colgan reached its goal by defeating the Olpe Eagles 35-24 last week, as Colgan scored 28 unanswered second-half points to erase a 24-7 third-quarter deficit.

Olpe took its 17-point lead with a Linden Stueve 56-yard punt return for touchdown, Alex Kuhlmann 16-yard interception return for touchdown and Stueve’s 41-yard touchdown reception as Colgan mustered one first-half touchdown. Aside from Olpe’s big plays, Colgan held Olpe in check with 104 total yards for the game.

Andy Farmer, in his third start at quarterback filling in for the injured Nate Arnold and Sam Gilbert, had some first-half struggles, including three straight incomplete passes from the Colgan 1 and Kuhlmann’s interception return for touchdown.

However, Farmer turned it around with two second-half touchdown passes, both to receiver Jesse Newcomb (who’s picking up the slack while Farmer plays quarterback), and set up another Colgan touchdown with a 32-yard run. Farmer ended 8 of 19 passing for 151 yards.

Colgan stuck with the pass and opened up its powerful run game.

“Olpe was so physical upfront that it was difficult running the ball,” Coach Smith said. “We started passing to keep the running option open.”

Colgan runners gashed Olpe’s defense, kept on the field too long because of a struggling offense, for 266 yards on 41 carries.

Christian Smith led Colgan with 158 rushing yards on 14 carries and Zach Smith gained 66 yards and scored three touchdowns on 19 carries.

Farmer will be making his fourth start today as Colgan looks for its first state title since 2003, a relative drought for a football program that has produced seven state football championships (1974-1975, 1984, 2000-2003).

The Meade Buffaloes, Colgan’s opponent, enter today’s championship game with a 11-1 record, having won 11 consecutive games since a 36-6 season-opening loss to Canadian, Texas.

Coach Smith compares Meade with a familiar Colgan opponent in recent years.

“Meade runs nothing fancy,” Smith said. “They’re like Centralia — they like to line up and run right over you. They’re a very good football team.”

Meade head coach Scott Moshier describes the Buffaloes in similar terms.

“We run an unbalanced single-wing offense and a 4-3 defense,” Moshier said. “We’re a run-dominated offense but we do have the ability to pass. Defense equals winning and we hang our hat on that.”

Meade defeated Stanton County 44-26 last week on the strength of 336 rushing yards on 58 carries and only three passes from Kellan Hernandez.

Hernandez led Meade with 149 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, seasonal leading rusher Jaden Friesen ran for 105 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries and Trevin Wiens produced 79 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.

Meade traveled 110 miles and two hours south to face Canadian, Texas (11-0 and still rolling) in a tough non-conference tilt.

“Canadian was the best football team I’ve ever coached against,” Moshier said. “They’re tremendous flying to the ball and Texas high school football borders on college football. It did prepare us for the speed of the upper-tier teams in Kansas, east and west.”

Speaking of speed, Moshier said that Colgan’s speed down the line caught his eye on game film.

“They have more team speed than we do,” Moshier said. “They don’t even have their starting quarterback. The Smith boys are phenomenal athletes. They’re the best team we’ve played outside Canadian.”

Meade last won a state football championship game in 1980.