OLPE — The Olpe High football team’s dream of an undefeated season came to an end Friday evening as a late two-point conversion attempt was easily snuffed out, allowing the Centralia Panthers to escape with a 22-20 win in the quarterfinal round of the 1A Playoffs.

“I can’t say enough about our effort tonight,” said Olpe Head Coach Chris Schmidt after the game. “It just came down to the fact that they made one or two more plays than we did. The effort is always there with this bunch. They give it to us every day, and it was a blast to be able to come out and watch them play Friday night football this year. I’m very fortunate to be someone that was able to sit back and watch all they did.”

A miraculous sack escape and last-second, rainbow touchdown pass from senior Olpe quarterback Colby Hoelting to junior receiver Jordan Barnard gave the Eagles a 14-6 advantage heading into halftime and a small cushion throughout much of the following period.

The third quarter was a war of attrition — consisting of two three-and-outs and an interception on both sides — until the Panthers finally broke through with a long touchdown at the 1:15 mark. After being stifled to short gains throughout much of the first half, Centralia quarterback Kamble Haverkamp sprinted up the middle for a huge 76-yard score, tying the game at 14 on a trick two-point pass the next play.

Perhaps the most crucial play of the game came on the Eagles’ following drive, as pressure from Centralia forced a tipped interception at the line to give the Panthers possession near midfield.

Having found his rhythm on the ground, Haverkamp elected to keep the ball on four straight plays, finding the endzone on a 25-yard run and then adding a back-breaking two-point score on another keeper to put the Panthers up 22-14 with just under seven minutes left to play. Both teams would be forced to punt once more — draining much of the clock in the process — before Olpe began its final tying effort at its own 41-yard line with just over two minutes remaining and only one timeout.

After an incomplete pass, the Eagles broke out the trickery with a hook and ladder which caught the Panthers off guard, nearly scoring before the Olpe receiver was tripped up from behind on the Centralia 17-yard line.

Two plays later, Hoelting found senior receiver Wylie Redeker on a 17-yard connection, bringing the score to 22-20 with just over a minute showing on the clock. Needing a conversion to extend their season, the Eagles would again resort to the air on the following play. Hoelting found his options limited after a fake handoff and rollout however, and was forced to try to jam the ball into tight coverage to no avail. The ensuing onside kick was easily recovered by the Panthers, sending them on to the 1A Final Four.

“It’s hard to find what to say, because you’re really at a loss for words after a game like this,” Schmidt said. “What I will say is that are seniors are all great kids. They’ve been in this program since they were little guys, and they’re hurting right now. I can’t say enough about what they’ve done for our program.

“Each one of them has meant so much to us and what we’ve had success-wise over the last few years. They’re a tough group to see go. This game can serve as a life lesson, though, as it’s just a situation of two great football teams going at each other and one unfortunately having to come out on the losing side. It stings, but we’ll get through it.”

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