Eagles' comeback was one for the ages

By Steve Sell
December 02, 2019

Just when I thought I had practically seen it all in my 40-plus years of sports writing – except McPherson High playing in a state championship football game – something always seems to come along to make me say “wow.”

As I’m enjoying these final twilight years, Saturday may have produced the all-time “wow” moment that may never be topped.

Canton-Galva’s football team, which had destroyed everything in its path in winning 12 straight games, suffered from a severe case of turnover-itis in the first half of its 8-Man Division I state championship game on Saturday against St. Francis in Newton.

Murphy’s Law jumped on the Eagles’ back and that sucker simply wouldn’t get off. C-G committed five turnovers to trail by 36 points, but it did conjure up a little first-half magic in the final 2 minutes, scoring 14 points in 41 seconds as it forced St. Francis into a key mistake that it quickly converted into points and that served as the firestarter.

That at least erased the thought that it could be an ignominious loss by the 45-point role. The Eagles were showing some heart and battling until they could get to the locker room and regroup.

Whatever C-G coach Shelby Hoppes told his team in what must have been a Rockne-type speech, he needs to bottle it and sell it. What followed was 24 minutes of perfect-storm football as the Eagles’ defense walled up and the offense literally moved like it was operating against air as St. Francis simply wore out as it didn’t hardly sub.

I was working the broadcast for 96.7 KBBE with Jim Joyner and had many people tell me after the game that I said many times, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing.”

Momentum can be an amazing thing, but to score 66 unanswered points after giving up 36 straight perhaps has never happened in any football game in Kansas history. It just doesn’t seem possible a team could go from being so down-and-out to eventually winning comfortably. To flip the switch like that, and for a team the quality of St. Francis to totally fall apart, is just an aberration.

Of course, the towns of Canton and Galva emptied out but there were a lot of other McPherson County towns represented. I know a lot of McPherson fans were in attendance and I’m sure other towns were represented as well.

It was the area’s first football championship since 1999 when Shane Cordell’s Little River Redskins outlasted St. Paul 32-28 in a game at Salina Stadium. I remember it well because I was standing on the sidelines with my clipboard and camera in hand as it was a thriller to the end.

What also makes this story complete is that it was C-G’s first-ever state championship and it erased the memory from 2015 when the program had to actually forfeit a game due to a lack of players. Hoppes, in his third year, has authored one of the state’s all-time turnarounds.

The victory made me reflect on my 40-plus years of covering Canton-Galva football and what tremendous players the program has produced, starting with my first year when Brad Hill and the late Butch Ladd were mainstays. It also made me remember guys like Kevin Bruce and Jake Warren, both of whom I wish were still around to enjoy this. Also, guys like Zac Hoppes, Aaron Alvord and Jace Pavlovich were outstanding Eagles in their days. It also was good to see former C-G coach Randall Rogers, one of my all-time favorites who was as proud as anybody for what the Eagles accomplished.

The Canton and Galva communities are as passionate about their sports teams as any I cover. It made my heart filled to watch them celebrate after the game, knowing the tough times the program endured in recent years.

I don’t know how many more football games I have left to cover in my career, but I’m sure I’ll never cover one quite like this again.