Six state championship games.
The run means that Derby’s current seniors were sixth graders the last time the program had not played for a title.
It’s just the latest chapter of one of the best runs in 6A history. With its 62-27 win over Junction City, Derby became the third school in the classification to claim six or more consecutive trips to the title game. It joins Lawrence (10, 1986-1995) and Wichita Southeast (7, 1974-1980) in accomplishing the feat.
“It’s all about this program,” coach Brandon Clark said. “It’s not about one individual, the coaches or a couple of stud players. It takes a program. It’s a belief system at an early age that they want to get to state and they want to play in the state game.”
The program has now reached the title game 12 times over its illustrious history. It’ll now face BV North in a rematch of the 2017 and 2018 state championship game.
It did it with a dose of dominance too. In a rematch of the 2008 state championship game, Derby was the first school to score 60 or more points against Junction City since a 64-14 loss to Salina South in 2001.
It’s a team that had to fight off adversity that no team in Derby’s state streak has had to face. After losing two regular-season games for the first time since 2011, it had to win two games on the road against two of the top three seeds to make it back to state.
“It’s the leadership of our seniors,” sophomore running back Dylan Edwards said. “… They would tell us that we’d go home if we don’t win in the playoffs. We came out with an intensity that we’d win every game and get to the state championship.”
Led by returning starters Alex Key, Dylan Conn and Jonas Vickers, a senior-less offensive line ravaged the front of Junction City’s defense. They aided nine touchdowns in Derby’s 10 drives.
Eight of those drives, with four scores apiece, ended in touchdown runs from Edwards and senior quarterback Lem Wash.
A methodical offense paid off for Derby late in the second quarter.
Leading 20-14, an interception from Wash set up Junction City at its own 9-yard line with 1:01 remaining in the first half. Instead of running out the clock, two incomplete passes from quarterback Andrew Khoury set up a final drive from Derby with 43 seconds left in the quarter.
It kickstarted a 42-13 run over the final 24 minutes of football.
“The kids prepared so well,” Clark said. “It was a gameplan that we had to adjust because of the way they were lined up, but they got on board and went with it.”
It was a breath of fresh air for Wash, recovering from the pass just that came just 34 seconds earlier.
“That was all defense,” Wash said of the final drive before halftime. “They’ve been helping us out all year and it was just another example.”
Two third-quarter touchdowns, including a 73-yard run from DJ Giddons, cut Derby’s lead to 41-27 with 5:00 left in the third quarter.
Derby’s defense manhandled an otherwise dominant Junction City defense over the final 17 minutes. It started with a sack from junior Andon Carpenter on the Blue Jays drive that carried into the fourth quarter.
It led to 21 unanswered Panther points to close the win.
“It’s players that are willing to put in the work, whether that be the game plan or lifting in the morning,” senior linebacker Coleson Syring said. “It’s practice, walkthroughs and getting in the film room… It’s a willingness to want to get to state and beat any team that you’re facing.”
DERBY: 13 14 21 14— 62
JUNCTION CITY: 0 14 13 0— 27
D: Edwards 22-yard run (Simmons kick)… 7-0
D: Wash 2-yard run (PAT no good)… 13-0
JC: Wilkey 13-yard pass from Khoury (PAT good)… 13-7
D: Edwards 2-yard run (Simmons kick)… 20-7
JC: Giddons 16-yard run (PAT good)… 20-14
D: M. Thatcher 7-yard pass from Wash (Simmons kick)… 27-14
D: Edwards 2-yard run (Simmons kick)… 34-14
JC: Bussey 15-yard pass from Khoury (PAT good)… 34-21
D: Wash 18-yard run (Simmons kick)… 41-21
JC: Giddons 73-yard run (PAT no good)… 41-27
D: Wash 5-yard run (Simmons kick)… 48-27
D: Wash 2-yard run (Simmons kick)… 55-27
D: Edwards 22-yard run (Simmons kick)… 62-27