The Goddard Lions are going to play for the Class 4A State football title.
The Lions earned their spot in the title game with a come-from-behind, 15-14 win over the host McPherson Bullpups. McPherson was the top seed in 4A’s West division.
Goddard will face Biship Miege, the four-time defending 4A-Div. I State champions. Class 4A had been playing in a pair of 32-team divisions, but became a single 32-team class under the new statewide classification realignment that took place prior to this season.
Saturday’s game will kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hummer Sports Complex Football Stadium in Topeka. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for students. Gates will open at 11 a.m.
Editor’s note: The Times-Sentinel follows all local high school varsity teams each week of the season. Below is the story from the Thursday, Nov. 22, print edition. To get coverage of the Lions each week – as well as the Cheney Cardinals, Clearwater Indians, Garden Plain Owls and Eisenhower Tigers – subscribe to Times-Sentinel. Call 316-540-0500 to begin home delivery. Our annual winter sports guide, along with coverage of Saturday’s State title game, will be in the Nov. 29 print edition.
Big plays propel Lions back to title game
By Travis Mounts
Multiple defensive plays and a 98-yard drive on offense helped the Goddard Lions to a stunning 15-14 comeback road victory over the previously unbeaten and top-seeded McPherson Bullpups.
Friday’s victory makes the Lions – seeded No. 3 – the West division representative in the 4A State championship.
The biggest play of the game came with fewer than 40 seconds to play. The Lions led 15-14 but McPherson had just driven from the Goddard 49 to the 14-yard line. The Bullpups star running back, Nathan Lesikar, came off the left side of the end zone and ran a slant into the end zone. Goddard linebacker Kaeden Hoefer stepped in front of Lesikar at the last second, knocking the ball into the air. Cornerback Gentry Cole had just broken off his receiver and made a dive into the end zone, scooping up the ball from below his knees to seal the win and send the Lions to a State championship football game for the second time in three seasons.
Goddard head coach Tommy Beason said there wasn’t a single turning point for the Lions’ comeback. Instead, the Lions needed four big defensive efforts in the second half as McPherson drove into the red zone on its final four possessions. But Goddard’s defense held each time, keeping the Bullpups scoreless the entire second half.
“It really showed the mettle of our team, the toughness,” he said. “Things weren’t going our way.”
To get a full idea of how the Lions’ comeback came together, you have to go back to the early minutes of the third quarter.
Trailing 14-7 in the second half, the Lions got their first break on a rare McPherson mistake. The Bullpups, pinned inside their own 5-yard line, snapped the ball out of the back of the end zone on third down, giving the Lions a safety. That pulled the Lions to within 5 points at 14-9.
The offense was not able to do much after the ensuing free kick, punting after suffering a third-down sack.
At that point, the Bullpups were poised to potentially put away the game. They drove from their own 41-yard line into the red zone. A 40-yard pass put them at the Lions’ 5, and a first-down run had them on Goddard’s 2-yard line. Goddard’s Carter Morrow tackled McPherson’s Mason Thrash for a 1-yard loss on a pass, forcing the Bullpups to settle for a field goal attempt that would have given them an 8-point lead.
But Spencer Steele came free from the right side of the defense to block the 20-yard attempt, giving the Lions the ball at the 9-yard line.
That was the first of four big defensive plays for the Lions, who held the Bullpups scoreless the entire second half.
The defense would soon be called on again. Goddard’s offense could not muster a first down, and a short punt to the left side of the field gave the Bullpups possession at Goddard’s 27-yard line.
The defense held again, however. The Bullpups converted on fourth down at the 20, and made it to the Lions’ 2-yard line before being stopped on fourth-and-1. McPherson converted the earlier fourth down on a direct snap to running back Nathan Lesikar, but the Lions stopped him for no yards when the Bullpups tried the play again.
Down 5 points with 10:38 left in the game, Goddard went on a 98-yard, 14-play drive that saw two third-down conversions, a fourth-down conversion and a quarterback change after starter Kyler Semrad took a helmet on his throwing arm. That brought in Jared Mocaby, who finished out the drive by going 4-for-4. Ben Bannister scored from one yard out, his second score of the game, to give the Lions a 15-14 lead with 4:29 to play.
Adam Walock made a key catch on third down early in the drive to keep the drive alive. Mocaby scrambled before completing a 37-yard pass to Blake Mitchell on fourth down, which put the Lions on the McPherson 5-yard line.
Goddard tried a 2-point conversion after the go-ahead touchdown, but Mocaby’s pass fell incomplete.
That put the game back into the hands of Goddard’s defense, which once again did the job.
The Bullpups needed just three plays to move from their 31-yard line to Goddard’s 6. A 25-yard pass and a 38-yard pass quickly put McPherson in scoring position. A tackle by Goddard’s Joe Gray on the second pass kept the Bullpups out of the end zone.
On third-and-goal at the Goddard 2, Trenton Willert stripped the ball from McPherson’s Thrash and made the fumble recovery, just beating Bullpups’quarterback Kyler Hoppes to the ball with 2:28 to play.
The Lions tried to run out the clock but couldn’t gain a first down, punting the ball back to McPherson with 1:24 to play.
McPherson, which had scored 46 points in 10 of its 11 victories this season, took possession at Goddard’s 49-yard line. The Bullpups made a huge play with a pass over the middle to Gabe Hoover, who then ran left and avoided several tacklers to run out of bounds at the 19-yard line with 40 seconds to play. An encroachment penalty on Goddard put the Bullpups on the 14.
On second-and-five is when Hoefer and Cole teamed up to seal the victory with a great defensive play and interception.
Goddard’s first big plays of the night came early in the game. The Lions forced McPherson’s potent offense into three-and-out on the Bullpups first two drives of the game.
Goddard’s first drive needed just two plays. On second-and-7, Bannister found a hole in the McPherson defense. After clearing the second level, he outraced the secondary to the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown. That gave the Lions a 7-0 lead just 81 seconds into the game.
Goddard’s offense struggled after that, punting on four straight drives including two without gaining a first down.
Meanwhile, McPherson found its offense on its third possession, driving 62 yards on seven plays and scoring on fourth-and-goal at the Goddard 6-yard line. That tied the game at 7.
McPherson drove to the Goddard 26-yard line early in the second quarter, but the Lions’ defense eventually held as the Bullpups turned the ball over on downs.
The Bullpups took the lead on their next possession, putting together a six-play, 65-yard drive. Most of those yards came when Hoppes connected with Chandler Wiard for a 49-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 3:29 left in the first half.
The Lions held the Bullpups scoreless in the second half, although the Bullpups had their chances. After the safety, McPherson drove into the red zone on its remaining four possessions. But each time the drive ended in a big Goddard defensive play.
The Lions will need their defense to come through again on Saturday. The Lions are facing Bishop Miege, which has won the last Class 4A-Division I titles. With this year’s changes to football classification, 4A is back to one division.
Beason won’t argue that the Lions are the “David” in any “David vs. Goliath” comparison, although it’s important to remember that David did defeat Goliath.
“You don’t win four of anything in a row without being dominant,” he said.
Beason said Miege has great speed and a quarterback who can run and throw on the run.
“He’ll be a college quarterback somewhere,” Beason said. Miege has twin brothers on left tackle and left guard. Beason calls them “studs.”
“They (Miege) are as deep as any team we’ve ever played, and that includes Derby,” he said.
The Bishop Miege Stags are 10-2, just like Goddard. One of their losses came against St. Thomas Aquinas, an undefeated team that will face unbeaten Wichita Northwest in the 5A championship. The Stags’ other losses was to Missouri powerhouse Rockhurst.
Goddard’s first loss was 27-2 against Maize, which last week lost 67-60 to Northwest. Goddard’s loss to Maize came in Week 5, when the Eagles had not given up a single point during the season. The Lions’ other loss was 23-22 in double overtime against Maize South when the Mavericks were in the middle of a six-game winning streak.
Semrad, a sophomore who started a few games a year ago, took most of the snaps last Friday before he got hurt. He’ll be Saturday’s starter. Mocaby handled a series in the first half, and played well after coming back into the game.
“We’ve used Jared a few times to provide a spark. It’s a decision in the moment,” Beason said. “We have faith in both of them. The experience Kyler picked up is incredible.”
Beason added that Semrad and Mocaby have been “super supportive” of each other.
Tale of the tape – Goddard vs. Bishop Miege
Goddard Lions (10-2)
Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League Div. II champion
4A West No. 3 seed
Head coach: Tommy Beason
Signature win: Last Friday’s 15-14 comeback victory against McPherson
Aug. 31 W 32-8 at Wichita East
Sept. 7 W 34-0 vs. Arkansas City
Sept. 14 W 17-16 (OT) vs. Andover Central
Sept. 21 W 12-3 at Eisenhower
Sept. 28 L 27-2 vs. Maize
Oct. 5 W 40-27 at Valley Center
Oct. 12 L 23-22 (2OT) at Maize South
Oct. 19 W 32-3 vs. Andover
Oct. 26 W 46-6 vs. Circle
Nov. 2 W 21-7 vs. Andover Central
Nov. 9 W 28-14 at Wellington
Nov. 16 W 15-14 at McPherson
Total points scored: 301
Total points allowed: 148
Average margin of victory (10 wins): 17.9 points.
Average margin of defeat (2 losses): 13 points.
Bishop Miege Stags (10-2)
Eastern Kansas League second place
4A East No. 5 seed
Head coach: Jon Holmes
Signature win: 55-21 over undefeated and top seed Louisburg on Nov. 9
Aug. 30 W 33-21 at Blue Valley North
Sept. 7 W 49-7 vs. Blue Valley West
Sept. 14 W 40-7 vs. Mill Valley
Sept. 21 W 45-0 at St. James Academy
Sept. 28 L 14-13 vs. Rockhurst
Oct. 5 W 29-15 at Blue Valley
Oct. 12 L 41-21 at St. Thomas Aquinas
Oct. 19 W 55-14 vs. Blue Valley Northwest
Oct. 26 W 76-8 vs. Labette County
Nov. 2 W 49-20 at Pittsburg
Nov. 9 W 55-21 at Louisburg
Nov. 16 W 46-7 at Basehor-Linwood
Total points scored: 511
Total points allowed: 175
Average margin of victory (10 wins): 31.2
Average margin of defeat (2 losses): 10.5