Justin Gore didn't wear a saddle Saturday, but ...
"We rode him today," Olathe North coach John McCall said.
Gore rushed for 175 yards on 32 carries as the perennially powerful Eagles outlasted upstart Hutchinson, 28-13, in the Class 6A state championship football game at Memorial Stadium.
Gore, a junior tailback, helped the Eagles win their seventh 6A title in the last eight years and their fourth in a row. Lawrence High had a similar seven-of-eight run from 1989 to 1995.
Gore is the latest in a long line of skilled Olathe North tailbacks, including older brother Beano Gore and current Kansas State standout Darren Sproles, who have sparkled in state-title contests.
"The backs of the past have always gotten it done," Gore said. "The way I saw it, if I had to get carried off on a stretcher, it'd be worth it as long as we won."
Hutchinson, playing in its first 6A title game, wasn't finished until Codi Willard picked off a John Sellers pass at midfield with less than three minutes remaining.
Sellers passed for 175 yards, but was intercepted three times. One of the thefts was by Gore's twin brother Jason and resulted in a gift touchdown. Jason Gore returned the theft 14 yards to the Hutch six, and the Eagles bulled over three plays later to expand their lead to 21-7.
"We always talk about we pick each other up," Justin Gore said about his twin, "and he picked me up that time."
Jason Gore's interception and another by teammate Dustin Moomau occurred in the third quarter when the Salt Hawks were driving against a stiff southerly breeze on the unseasonably warm upper-50-degree day.
"We can't blame the wind," Hutch QB Sellers said. "They were quick, but we were still able to do some stuff on offense."
Hutch outgained the Eagles by 37 yards (257 to 220), but couldn't overcome the three pass thefts or poor field position.
"They're a good team," Sellers said, "but we could have easily beaten them. The turnovers hurt."
Hutchinson (12-1) came in as the lone remaining unbeaten team in Class 6A, while the Eagles had suffered three losses, including a 21-16 decision to Lawrence High.
"In a game like this the margin of error is so minimal," Hutch coach Randy Dreiling said. "We feel like we had some guys open and didn't make plays."
Dreiling conceded one of the interceptions thrown by Sellers was caused by the wind, but added: "I don't think it affected us much at all."
Still, the wind did affect field position. Hutch's Kyle Castillo averaged only 21.8 yards on four punts against the wind, and Olathe North was gifted with two points when a punt snap went over Castillo's head and into the end zone for a safety.
Olathe North (10-3) used its standard formula since bowing to Lawrence High in mid-October. Gore and quarterback Mike McCall had all but three of the Eagles' carries, and McCall threw just one pass.
In last week's semifinal against Blue Valley North, Gore carried 35 times and McCall 23. Earlier in the playoffs, Gore carried 30 times and McCall 15 in a 41-21 win over Lawrence High.
"We rode our horses home today," O-North coach McCall said. "And our defense was outstanding."
O-North won't have a chance to make it five in a row and eight of nine next year, at least not in Class 6A. The Eagles will operate in 5A during the next two seasons because of an enrollment decline precipitated by the opening of Olathe Northwest.