Before Saturday’s state championship game, Veritas Christian School football coach Doug Bennett decided that, win or lose, he was going to write a quotation on the board after the game.
It’s from former Kansas City Chiefs football coach Dick Vermeil: “If you don't invest very much, then defeat doesn't hurt very much and winning is not very exciting.”
After the Eagles completed a perfect season with a 46-30 victory against St. Mary’s Academy at the Eagles Nest, Bennett said his team’s investment in offseason workouts — weights, summer camps and team camp — paid huge benefits.
“It’s a great feeling when you invest so much time,” Bennett said.
The Eagles (10-0) won their first Kansas Christian Athletic Association state football championship thanks in large part to jumping out to a big lead on the Crusaders. Veritas scored in less than three plays on its first three drives, taking a 22-0 lead with 6:49 remaining in the first quarter.
Junior quarterback Nick Bennett said he expected to take an early lead considering how much the strong winds would affect St. Mary’s pass-heavy offense.
Veritas won the opening coin flip, and instead of choosing to receive the ball to open the game, Bennett sent his kickoff team out with the wind at its back.
St. Mary’s moved the ball just 14 yards in its first three drives, none of which came through the air.
“We knew where they had the best chance of beating us was through the air, so we figured if we put the wind in their face for at least the first quarter, we can kind of set the tone,” Bennett said. “It was just kind of clock-management after that first quarter.”
“Without that start, we may not have won that game,” senior Ethan Scott said. “It gave us so much momentum for that first half.”
The Crusaders’ defense, however, held for the rest of the first half and the score remained 22-0 at halftime. Sophomore quarterback Brian Rebigila and sophomore wide receiver Jeff Christen led St. Mary’s on two scoring drives to start the second half, bringing the score to 22-14.
The teams traded touchdowns and two-point conversions twice in the fourth quarter, making the score 38-30 with 1:57 to play.
On the first play of Veritas’ ensuing drive, Nick Bennett — the coach’s son — rushed to the right side and found room around the outside. With no St. Mary’s players close, Bennett rounded off the run in the end zone near the goal line, handed the ball to a referee and immediately found his dad on the sideline.
The two hugged, knowing that the championship was in their grasp.
“That was the greatest thing that’s happened to me,” said Nick Bennett, who finished with 158 rushing yards, 131 passing yards and five total touchdowns.
The game was the culmination of the work the players put in this year, but coach Bennett said it was also gratifying for players who started the football program at the school 10 years ago.
“There’s been a lot of years building up to get to this point,” Doug Bennett said.
Ethan Scott, who knocked down more than a few of the Crusaders’ passing attempts, said the team knew from the beginning of the year that its had a chance to win the championship, so the players worked harder than they ever had to achieve that goal.
When he held the championship plaque at midfield, he said he felt extremely proud about what the team did.
Coach Bennett took a week off from his work as — get this — an investment advisor to focus on helping his players cash in on their investment.
“I might need to take another week off just to celebrate,” he said.