There is a new Thanksgiving-week tradition in Eudora: preparing for the Class 4A football state championship game.
Eudora High’s 21-7 sub-state victory over Piper on Friday landed the Cardinals in their second straight title game. EHS coach Gregg Webb said now that the players have experienced competing for the ultimate prize (Eudora lost, 21-0, to Rose Hill in the 2011 4A title game), they seem more comfortable as they get ready to take on undefeated Holton (13-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Salina.
“Last year was kind of a novel thing for the kids,” Webb said of the program’s first championship-game appearance. “You could see it in their eyes. They were so excited about just being able to play in the game. This bunch is a little more professional, business-like.”
The coach thought Eudora’s defense played well against Piper — linemen Skyler Manley and Nick Becker each had 1.5 sacks, linebacker Markis Hill totaled eight tackles, safety Andrew Ballock picked off two passes, and Manley recovered a fumble. But Webb said the offense could have been more productive, even though senior running back Gabe Cleveland rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns, and junior quarterback Ballock added 147 rushing yards and a TD.
Just like last season, the Cardinals enter the 4A title game with a 12-1 record. This time around, Webb hopes it just seems like another game on the schedule. That kind of mentality, he added, made his former teams at Claflin — where Webb won five state championships and coached in nine title games in 15 seasons — successful.
When practice began this week, the coach said, the Cardinals just showed up, worked and watched film. Everything felt routine.
“There’s a lot less fanfare to the deal about being here,” Webb said.
Though the positive side of that is being more mentally and emotionally prepared for the game, the coach witnessed the downside, too, in his time at Claflin. He said when playing for a championship became the expectation, getting there lost some of its luster.
“It’s like anything else, the first time you do something it’s unbelievable, and the next time it isn’t quite as amazing,” Webb said.
The coach made it clear to his players that returning to the championship was quite an accomplishment.
“There’s a ton of schools out there that would still like to be playing,” he said, “and we get to do it two years in a row.”