East tops West in Shrine Bowl
By CONOR NICHOLL
TOPEKA – The Shrine Bowl’s final play summed up a wildly entertaining contest that included a fake field goal for a touchdown, a rare “swinging gate” play on a two-point conversion, a fullback pass for a fourth-down score for the game’s winning points and an interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
On second and 11 from the West 39-yard line, West quarterback Zeke Palmer tossed a 23-yard pass to Kip Keeley in the flat as the clock ran out. Keeley was nearly tackled, but threw a backwards pass to Cody Busby, who sprinted down down the left sideline. Busby reached the 21-yard line before the East’s Pete Pfannenstiel tackled him.
“It looked like there for a second he was going to break it,” Keeley said. “But it’s a good way to end the game, I guess you could say, on a crazy play like that. Just a great game.”
The play completed a 22-19 East victory in front of 7,600 fans at Washburn University’s Yager Stadium on Saturday night.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but when it came to me, I got it, and I was ready to run,” Busby said. “I wish I could have took it all the way, and made the big play.”
The contest halted the West’s seven-game winning streak, the longest by one team in the 40-year game history. West leads the all-time series 25-14-1.
“Both teams played hard,” Wichita Collegiate’s Markus Phox said of the all-star contest that supports Shriner’\s Hospitals for Children. “That’s all you can say. It was for a great cause, so the game is not a failure in my mind. We lost, but we still raised a lot of money. I am definitely upset that we lost because I competed and I am really competitive, but I am happy with how it turned out. I had a great time and learned a lot. I learned what the Shriners do, which is an awesome organization.”
The East trailed 19-14 after Busby’s six-yard TD run with 6:09 remaining. However, the East drove to the West 20 and faced a fourth-and-4 with 3:08 left. During a timeout, East head coach Jason Swift and his staff decided to run a fullback pass. Swift, entering his 11th year at Shawnee Heights, had never called a fullback pass in such a decisive moment in his career.
The East had practiced the play during the week with scout team, scored a TD and decided to put it in the playbook. During the game, Swift kept saying, “When it’s there, let’s go toss pass.”
“We all looked at each other and said, ‘We can’t take it home with us,’” he said. “So, we threw the toss pass, and it was great.”
Facing man coverage, running back Conley Wilkins took the pitch and lofted a pass to a wide-open Austin Moses.
“It was a good call by them, and we just didn’t execute our defense,” West coach Ryan Cornelsen said.
Phox and the West knew the East had ran the option often and thought option again. He was on the play side and bit on the handoff, which allowed Moses to get open.
“If I could have one play back, it would definitely be that one where they scored,” said Phox, a Princeton signee. “I’ve got to have a short memory. I’ve got to go up to Princeton soon, and I’ve got to have a lot of confidence…. A great coaching decision on their part and sometimes you just get out-thought.”
Moses also caught the ensuing two-point conversion despite taking a big hit.
“First time being in an all-star game, you do something a little bit different in an all-star game,” Swift said. “It’s a little bit harder, because it’s just chaos, because kids aren’t used to playing together, so it was a great time to try it. I will probably do it again, though.”
The contest started slow on both sides. Neither team scored in the first quarter and squads were tied at six at halftime. Trent Tanking, the East’s MVP, led all players with 16 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
The West didn’t collect a first down until 10:16 remained in the first half, but struck first on a seven-yard pass from Phox to Scott City’s Drew Kite on a fake field goal with seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.
“You have to do some things to have fun,” Cornelsen said.
The West had practiced the play a couple times throughout the week.
“That was kind of the way this game was, was try and trick them and that’s how both teams would be successful,” Swift said. “It was great. They caught us. It looked like they were going for a field goal. We don’t know if they can kick it or not, and then all of a sudden, they were going for a fake. Great call on their part.”
The West faced a fourth-and-goal from the 7, and went back into field goal formation with Phox set to kick. Phox threw to the right side, but the play was supposed to go left.
“It got all messed up, and the guy didn’t know where he was supposed to go,” Phox said. “I kind of scrambled, and saw Kite, who is a great athlete out in the corner of the end zone and just threw it up. I hadn’t thrown in forever. It came back to me in a moment.”
On the two-point conversion, the West tried a “swinging gate” that Cornelsen learned from Mulvane where nearly all of the players lined up on the far left side of the field.
“It worked for them a couple of times during the season,” Cornelsen said.
Phox, who had virtually no blocking outside of his center, took the snap, but his pass was incomplete.
“We had a little option play that we were going to run,” Phox said. “If the option wasn’t there, I was supposed to throw it over the top to Kite to again. But he wasn’t there, and I kind of muffed the throw, so it didn’t get to him.”
Phox later kicked an extra point, but the West missed its conversion on its last score. The East went 2 of 3 on two-point conversions, the difference in the game.
“Neither team really has a kicker, so we have to do what we can,” Busby said.
A few minutes later, the East tied the game on a 31-yard run from Denzel Chilcoat. The teams exchanged third-quarter scores before Busby gave the West its 19-14 lead.
After the East’s fullback pass, Palmer, the West’s MVP who completed 14 of 20 passes for 175 yards and rushed 13 times for 68 yards, drove the West to the East 18-yard line. Pittsburg’s Spencer Bernhardt picked off Palmer’s pass in the left side end zone with 93 seconds remaining.
The West had its last chance, but Keeley’s lateral to Busby fell just short.
“Our whole sideline just took a deep breath,” Phox said of the last play. “Like “Uhhhh, we can do it.’ But it didn’t turn out the way that we wanted it to. But it was an exciting play and it was an exciting game. I am sure the fans had a lot of fun.”