It’s officially time to add another trip to Emporia on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Derby’s grip on Class 6A West football has grown even stronger, claiming its fifth-straight trip to the state championship game in a 63-35 win over Topeka.
The Panthers are just the second team in 6A history to play in five or more consecutive state title games, joining Lawrence (10). Since the start of the seeding system in state playoffs in 2016, they are now 14-1 in the postseason with the lone loss coming in the 2017 title game.
(NOTE: The above statistic does not include Hutchinson due to its jump between 5A and 6A.)
“[The feeling] never gets old and these guys have worked their tails off,” coach Brandon Clark said. “It’s a special and unique team like none we’ve ever coached before. There is a brotherhood like all other Derby football teams and they’re a tight group. They’ve earned everything.”
As a program that carries such rich postseason prominence and prestige in Class 6A, Derby players will be the first to say that it starts with taking the season one week at a time. When nothing stands between it and a trip to state, however, they’re ready to celebrate.
“It’s crazy,” junior linebacker Jack Hileman said. “Especially with the teams that have come before us and built this team up, we just had to step up to the occasion.”
The loss also ended Topeka’s hopes of making its program’s first-ever state championship game. It was playing in its first state semifinal since 1973. It is the first time that it has allowed 60 or more points in a game since its 2014 season finale.
Junior quarterback Lem Wash posted four scores on the ground and two touchdown passes, including a 77-yard scamper in the first half.
Wash connected on his first touchdown pass on Derby’s first drive, hitting senior wide receiver for a 16-yard score on 4th and 11. Senior defensive back Terry Ginyard gave it excellent starting field position with a 71-yard returning on the opening kickoff.
Looking to strike back, Hileman intercepted Topeka quarterback Da’Vonshai Harden on the following drive and scored on a 32-yard pick six.
Just over halfway into the first quarter, Wash scored on a 77-yard run and Derby already held a three-touchdown lead.
Having played alongside Grant Adler for three years and started for six weeks while the senior was out with an ankle injury, Wash has built a strong camaraderie with his teammate. Adler has only played a series in a state championship and the junior signal-caller wanted to make sure his teammate would have the opportunity to live those dreams in Emporia next Saturday.
“I couldn’t let him go out like that,” Wash said of potentially missing the state game. “I wanted to do everything I could to help him get to state.”
Senior running back Tre Washington further silenced a stunned Topeka sideline with a nine-yard touchdown run in the final 15 seconds of the first quarter. The score came after do-it-all Trojan running back Ky Thomas was stuffed on a 4th-and-short inside Panther territory.
“It really starts with our coaches,” senior defensive linemen Daniel Archer said of the unit. “We’ve focused on our game plan each and every week. I feel we’ve executed what they’ve told us to do pretty well.”
Thomas put it on the board with a one-yard run on the following Topeka drive, making it 28-7 with 9:37 remaining in the first half. However, Wash needed just over two minutes to strike back with a three-yard rushing touchdown.
Topeka’s hopes of a comeback were nearly erased when Thomas, who also punted for Topeka, had a fake called back due to hurdling a vertical defender. Derby’s junior quarterback capitalized on the terrific field position and added his third rushing touchdown on a 21-yard run.
Harden did throw his first of two touchdown passes with 1:16 remaining in the first half, but left Derby too much time before the break. Senior wide receiver Aaron Larson scored his first touchdown of the fall, taking the Wash pass 36 yards to the end zone.
After adding a Wash and Washington touchdown run in the second half, Derby claimed its third game of 60-plus points and 10th win by 28 or more points.
TPKA: 0 14 14 7— 35
DRBY: 28 21 7 7— 63
D: Walker 16-yard pass from Wash (Simmons kick)… 7-0
D: Hileman 32-yard interception return (Simmons kick)… 14-0
D: Wash 77-yard run (Simmons kick)… 21-0
D: Washington 9-yard run (Simmons kick)… 28-0
T: Thomas 1-yard run (PAT good)… 28-7
D: Wash 3-yard run (Simmons kick)… 35-7
D: Wash 21-yard run (Simmons kick)… 42-7
T: Smith 14-yard pass from Harden (PAT good)… 42-14
D: Larson 36-yard pass from Wash (Simmons kick)… 49-14
T: Williams 9-yard pass from Harden (PAT good)… 49-21
D: Wash 6-yard run (Simmons kick)… 56-21
T: Thomas 18-yard run (PAT good)… 56-28
D: Washington 4-yard run (Simmons kick)… 63-28
T: Thomas 20-yard run (PAT good)… 63-35
DERBY TEAM STATISTICS—
Passing: Wash, 5-5-99-2; Liston, 1-1-3
Rushing: Wash, 13-216-4; Washington, 18-129-2; Edwards, 6-36; Liston, 1-3
Receiving: Walker, 3-51-1; Larson, 2-39-1; Liston, 1-12
TOPEKA TEAM STATISTICS—
Passing: Harden, 13-19-91-2-1; Thomas, 0-1-0-0
Rushing: Thomas, 48-358-3; Harden, 10-3
Receiving: Smith, 6-44-1; Williams, 4-29-1; James, 1-10; Thomas, 2-8