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Shrine Bowl: Keeley shows his stuff

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

TOPEKA - At first, the West coaches expected La Crosse fullback Kip Keeley to primarily block in Saturday's Shrine Bowl all-star game.

"The coaches were like, 'When we go into spread, we will probably move our fullback, take him off, put a faster kid in there,' " Keeley said.

However, that changed after the first couple days of practice. Keeley showed his soft hands that caught 71 career passes for the Leopards last fall, including 28 catches for 516 yards and five scores, part of a statistical profile that produced Hays Daily News Super 11 honors.

On Saturday, Keeley finished with five catches for 77 yards and nine rushes for 23 yards in the West's 22-19 loss to the East in front of 7,600 fans at Washburn University's Yager Stadium. The loss ended the West's seven-game winning streak. The 40th annual game raises money for Shriners Hospital for Children.

He led all players in total yards and receiving yards and finished second in receptions. Keeley also collected two tackles and received consideration for West MVP. He impressed players, coaches and onlookers who hadn't seen him in the fall.

"He is an animal out there," West running back Cody Busby said. "He is a beast. I had a great time playing with him. Hands down, he was really good out there tonight."

Both teams started slowly and the game was scoreless after the first quarter.

"Kids played hard," said Hays High's Ryan Cornelsen, the West's head coach. "It took us awhile to get to where we could execute our offense. We came through and started moving it better. It's a chance for me to use what I do in my profession to raise money for a great cause. You want to win the game, but there is a bigger picture there."

The West collected its first first down on a 12-yard pass from Bishop Carroll quarterback Zeke Palmer to Keeley in the flat with 10 minutes, 16 seconds left in the first half.

"They were playing man on the outside, and they had the safety way off, so we were just running out routes with me," Keeley said. "They weren't guarding me real tight. ... We kind of utilized my ability to catch and when you have got a quarterback like Zeke who can pretty much put it wherever he wants, it makes it easy."

The West turned Keeley's reception into the game's first score when Markus Phox found Drew Kite for a seven-yard score off a fake field goal.

"It was really the first time any of us had been in full game speed since our last high school football game," Keeley said.

Keeley set up West's second score with a 27-yard catch on a wide-open grab across the middle in the third quarter.

"He played outstanding, didn't he?" East coach Jason Swift said. "We know the name, because as high school coaches, we follow these things, but, yeah, they were impressive. It could have gone either way. We just happened to be lucky to be on top."

It marked the West's longest play from scrimmage and helped Palmer earn West MVP honors after he finished 14 of 20 for 175 yards with no touchdowns and one interception and led the team with 13 carries for 68 yards. The West collected 41 carries for 123 rushing yards and had one running play over 10 yards.

Phillipsburg's Sean Newlan was Palmer's backup and finished with four carries for 10 yards. He also punted seven times for a 37.1 average. Plainville's Bradey Chard started at center, while Ness City's Dalton Gantz recorded no defensive statistics at linebacker.

"Zeke is awfully good, and we planned on playing Newlan more, but the run game was just almost non-existent," Cornelsen said. "We couldn't block them up front, so we had to go to our spread game. That's just how it turned out. We struggled. They were bringing everybody. It's tough to get blitz protection in in a week, and they hurt us a little bit with it."

Hays High's David Cardinal collected nine carries for 20 yards.

"He was playing hard," Cornelsen said. "We just couldn't get our run game going, so we had to kind of go away from it and try to do some other things. But there is no doubt, he played hard and did a great job."

On the West's final score, Keeley had three carries for six yards to set up a six-yard TD run by Busby that gave West a 19-14 lead with 6:09 left. Then, the East took its final lead on a 20-yard fullback pass from Conley Wilkins to Austin Moses with 3:04 remaining.

"Shrine Bowl game, you are going to see tricks like that," Keeley said. "In the back of my mind, I thought that it was a real possibility of something like that, but it was a great call by them."

The West had two more chances, but Palmer threw an interception in the end zone on the first possession. On the last game's final play, Keeley caught a 23-yard pass from Palmer.

Keeley looked back and saw 6-foot-5, 270-pound lineman Collin French and the speedy Busby. He lateraled back to Busby, who took the ball on a hop, and raced down the left sideline.

"Kip is just a heady kid," Cornelsen said. "He caught the ball and was trying to make something happen."

Busby had a possible opportunity to score, but the East's Pete Pfannenstiel tackled him at the East 21 to end the game. Still, Keeley and the West wore plenty of smiles on the field after the game.

"It was just a really fun game," said Keeley, a Kansas State University football walk-on. "Being my last high school football game and being the last time that I represented my La Crosse community and represented the Leopards, I felt like I gave it my all, and, in the end, the win would have meant a lot to me, but it's really for an overall great cause. In the end, you really don't hang your head a lot when you lose."