For the first time since the school opened in 1958, SM East is a Kansas state football champion.
With a gritty 33-14 win over the Hutchinson Salthawks at Welch Stadium on the campus of Emporia State University Saturday, SM East laid claim to the state 6A football title that eluded them last season. The win serves as the culmination of a dramatic turnaround for a program that had been reliably unremarkable for the vast majority of its first five decades.
The Lancer football renaissance began in 2009, when Coach Chip Sherman arrived in Prairie Village from Platte County and piloted SM East to a 26-15 record over four seasons, including three straight trips to the playoffs. When Sherman abruptly announced in 2013 that he would be leaving SM East to take over at Olathe Northwest, many Lancer fans were convinced that the program’s momentum would falter, and a return to the normalcy of irrelevance was around the corner.
Instead, SM East took a huge step forward the year after Sherman left, with new head coach Dustin Delaney implementing a high-powered flexbone offense that propelled the Lancers to their first-ever state championship game appearance.
The “unfinished business” that remained after the Lancers came up short against heavily favored Derby in 2013 was officially wrapped up Saturday as the 2014 Lancers celebrated with the coveted state title plaque in their hands.
“We worked all last year, we believed in each other and stuck together even when our coach left,” said senior defensive end Kyle Ball, who has two scholarship offers from DI programs, of the experience. “It’s a unique group of guys who believe in each other no matter what happens.”
Since Delaney’s arrival last season, the Lancers are the winningest 6A program in the state, going 24-2 between 2013 and 2014, and a perfect 13-0 this season. Delaney credited last year’s senior class with laying the foundation that made Saturday’s title — his first as a head coach — possible.
“They bought in to what we were preaching,” he said of the class of 2014. “They set the groundwork. And these seniors this year just took it and ran with it.”
Now all that’s left for Lancer fans is to celebrate — a concept that’s foreign to longtime members of the SM East community. Nick Paris graduated from SM East in 1960 and has spent the past 29 years as a teacher at the school.
“I’d like to say I dreamed of this, but I never dreamed of it,” he said. “But here it is. They made it happen…I have several of them in class, and they’re all getting extra credit on Monday.”
Full game wrap coming tomorrow.