Derby advances to Class 6A title game

Erin Kooser

Erin Kooser

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Erin Kooser

Panther’s Tale

The heaters were out and on full blast behind the bench because Friday was one of the coldest games yet. Fans were layered to try to keep warm but were still able to pack the stands at Panther Stadium to watch Derby play Lawrence Free State in the Class 6A semifinals.

The cold didn’t faze the players, either, as Derby beat Free State 49-21 to advance to the 6A title game on Nov. 26 at Emporia State. Derby (12-0) will face Blue Valley, the team the Panthers beat in the 2015 title game.

Early in the first quarter the Panthers gave up a Free State touchdown on a nine-yard pass. But junior Brody Kooser responded on Derby’s first possession with a game-tying touchdown run with just over six minutes left in the first quarter.

With the crowd yelling and on their feet in near-freezing temperatures, Derby forced a Firebirds punt. Later in that possession, Derby junior Michael Littleton found his way through Free State’s defense for a 49-yard touchdown reception from senior quarterback Dan Dawdy.

With seconds left in the first quarter, Derby took a 14-point lead when Dawdy found senior Kai Lemons. Then, after senior Braedon Cooper scooped up a fumble five minutes into the second quarter, Dawdy found Lemons again for their second scoring hookup of the night, putting the Panthers up 28-7.

Shortly after, the Panthers recovered the ball after an onside kick. Dawdy finished the possession with two-yard touchdown as Derby scored 35 unanswered points and led 35-14 at the half.

Six minutes into the third, Kooser ran in for his second TD. Kooser scored his third rushing touchdown 30 seconds into the fourth quarter.

After the unfortunate injury of sophomore Chase Newton and then the injury timeout, the pace of the game seemed to slow down for the Panthers. Derby kept Free State scoreless on the goal line for seven plays, but the Firebirds scored to get within 49-14..

After the teams shook hands, Derby’s celebration began. The Panthers made their way to the north end zone for the DHS alma mater with the marching band Then they headed to midfield to receive the substate championship plaque where now all the seniors must bite the edges.

The student section waited in the south end zone, and there were shouts of “state bound” and “let’s go, boys” as the fans surrounded the plaque and the players.  

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Derby advances to Class 6A title game