With five consecutive state titles under their belts, the Sedgwick County Cougars have already made history. They are the first eight-man program to accomplish that feat, but they are stalking a bigger prize, a sixth straight crown. Currently, Limon (1963-68) is alone in possessing that many.
Standing in their way is a Sanford squad that is making the first-ever state title game appearance in program history. However, the school does know a thing or two about winning championships. The boys basketball program has laid claim to eight titles, including three straight between 2014 and 2016.
Last week, the Indians made their first appearance in the semifinals, and after scoring the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, they held off Merino to punch their ticket to Pueblo with the 16-14 victory. That was their third postseason win in the last two years, and it improved the program’s record in the playoffs to 8-19.
For a team that rolled through the regular season, winning every game by at least 24 points, the playoffs have provided some much needed challenges. The Indians gave up more than 400 yards rushing in their quarterfinal contest against Mancos, but eked out a 36-28 victory over their conference rivals. Last week, they held a Merino team that at one point during the season had reeled off three straight games with more than 400 rushing yards, to less than half of that.
Overall, Sanford has outscored its opponents 296-88 this season. Offensively, a good chunk has come from junior running back Kelton Gartrell. As a sophomore, Gartrell ran for more than 1400 yards and 23 scores, and while the Indians keep their stats private until after the season is over, he has been a focal point once again. In the two playoff games, he’s averaging close to 140 yards, and has scored twice. His classmate, Josh Holman, has added close to 200 yards and four TDs on the ground, and has also thrown for close to 100 yards in the postseason. When defenses key too much on the running game, Mason Goodwin has shown the ability to make them pay as a receiver.
The semifinal game was the sixth time the Indians had held an opponent to 16 or fewer points in a game. Last year’s leading tackler, Brett Price, plays a key role again this season. He’s aided by Gartrell and Goodwin, as well as Omar Guerrero, Ethan Larsen, and Ruben Chavez.
Sedgwick County takes a 25-game winning streak into the title clash, and the Cougars have won 22 straight in the postseason. Since their amazing run of dominance began in 2015, the Cougars have posted a 70-2 record. Only one of those losses came to an in-state opponent, Merino (27-24 in 2018). They avenged that loss in the playoffs.
During their postseason run, the Cougars have outscored the opposition 985-148, while never allowing more than 21 points to any foe. They’ve also only been held under 40 points four times. Their defenses have recorded six shutouts. The most points Sedgwick County has allowed in a championship game is 14, by Hoehne in 2018. Sanford will be the fifth different program the Cougars have faced in the finals. Akron (twice), West Grand, Hoehne, and Fowler are the other four.
This year, the Cougars have held every opponent to 16 or fewer points, with one shutout. In the postseason, they’ve outscored their opponents 91-18, with only the six points scored by Dove Creek last week coming before the running clock had started. Overall, they’ve dominated the opposition by the count of 387-68.
Spearheading the effort on the defensive side of the ball are seniors Fabian Lopez, Tate Goddard, Terrance Heath, and Angel Lopez, as well as junior Nolan Carlson. Heath and Angel Lopez routinely get into the opposing backfield and harass the QB.
Senior quarterback Jared Ehmke has had the luxury of having the sure handed Heath available on the outside. Coming into the season, Heath had 51 career receptions for more than 1000 yards, and a full third (17) of those catches had gone for scores. Jaciel Villalobos and Goddard give Ehmke even more options to throw to.
However, the bread and butter of any Sedgwick County offense is the ground game, and this year is no exception. Senior Kaleb Fowler leads the attack, but gets plenty of help from Brody Parker, along with Goddard and Ehmke.
The two schools that make up the Sedgwick County program, Revere and Julesburg, both had great success on their own. Julesburg claimed championships in 1963 (Class A), 1964 (Class AA), 1967 (Class AA), and 1970 (Class AA). Revere put nine trophies in the case, which is good for fifth-most in state history. The first two, 1966 and 1967, were in 8-man, followed by the Class A crown in 1969. They then reeled off three straight six-man championships from 1989-91, and took three more in the four-year span from 1994-97.
SEDGWICK COUNTY COUGARS (8-0)
Coach: Chris Michel
Outscored opponents 387-68
W: McClave 55-12
W: Akron 41-0
W: Haxtun 60-14
W: Holly 56-8
W: Merino 32-0
W: Dayspring Christian 52-16
W: Crowley County 45-12
W: Dove Creek 46-6
State Championship History (5-0)
2019: Beat Fowler 44-8
2018: Beat Hoehne 58-14
2017: Beat West Grand 42-6
2016: Beat Akron 41-11
2015: Beat Akron 36-8
SANFORD INDIANS (7-0)
Coach: Joe Cary
Outscored opponents 296-88
W: Soroco 50-12
W: Sangre De Cristo 46-8
W: Norwood 50-14
W: Dove Creek 36-12
W: Sargent 62-0
W: Mancos 36-28
W: Merino 16-14
State Championship History (0-0)
1st ever state championship appearance