L INCOLN — The final whistle blew, the stadium lights were flashing, and pandemonium broke out on the west side of Memorial Stadium at the end of the Class D-2 state championship on Nov. 22
A Kenesaw fan base, made up of a number of supporters that nearly matched the town’s population, erupted with jubilation as the Blue Devils were crowned state champions. A school that has been “so close” in various postseason moments finally eradicated the phrase “falls short” from its vocabulary.
The town of Kenesaw and many former Blue Devils hoisted the state championship trophy vicariously on the shoulders of five senior football players as the Blue Devils defeated Sandhills/Thedford 46-40.
“The fans, they’re big in this (championship). Huge attendance for our school, for our community. This is awesome,” said Kenesaw head coach Craig Schnitzler.
“These seniors, they’ve had this on their mind; they’ve talked about it, they played it out in their mind, and they’ve worked for it all season long and in the offseason.”
The five seniors who led the Blue Devils to their first team state championship in school history were Tyson Denkert, Trey Kennedy, Sean Duffy, Drake Olson and Eli Jensen. Most of the group has been starters for all four years, but all five have made an impact throughout their careers. During their time as Blue Devils, they collected a record of 39-5 and competed in more playoff games than any other group before them. They’ve experienced heartache at the end of their first three seasons, each cut short in the playoffs; but now they have capped a remarkable season with a perfect 13-0 record. Their rewards: gold medals, a state championship trophy, and lifelong memories.
“We’ve been playing together since third grade, and this has always been a dream of ours, and now we’ve got it done,” Denkert said. “We knew what we were expected to do, and we finally got it done.”
Only one Kenesaw football team had ever reached the state championship, in 1990. Some of the players from that team became youth football coaches in Kenesaw and trained the young athletes who grew up to be this year’s senior class. There, they witnessed the birth of this dream of winning the state championship.
“Ever since we were little, we’ve been wanting to do this, and it’s finally true. The first one in Kenesaw history, and the fans are all behind us; it’s just a really great feeling,” Duffy said.
All five seniors called the others in the group their best friends.
Duffy said the bunch are respectful young men who enjoy being a helpful part of the community. But they also like having fun being kids. That sentiment is perhaps most evident in the film studies the day before the game. With most of the prep work already in place, those “film sessions” more often resemble a playground.
“We just do a whole lot of beating the crap out of each other, or playing indoor baseball, or just screwing around in some sort of way,” Kennedy said. “It’s just nice to have your best friends be your teammates on the field.”
The road to the championship began during the offseason, when the team put in the work to hone their skills and get better physically. But the journey became tougher when the Blue Devils were declared No. 1 in the preseason Class D-2 rankings. The senior class knew they had to not only perform on the field, but also make sure every player on the team was doing his job in practice and during the games.
“We keep everybody in check, but we’re pretty chill and we just love hanging out,” Jensen said of the senior group. “All of that hard work has paid off, and we finally got to this point.”
Monday’s victory also marked the final time all five players will be on the field together, but the sadness brought with that notion is quickly replaced by the thrill of a state championship and the joy of the memories made during their time as teammates.
For Drake Olson, it was also the last game he played with his dad, Casey, being one of his coaches. Drake could not have planned a better way to end the coach-player relationship between father and son.
“There was a lot of emotion because this was something my dad never got to do. It was good to be able to run to the sideline and give my dad a hug after the game,” he said.
Nearly the whole town may have been in Lincoln on Monday afternoon to support their Blue Devils, but the D-2 state championship now has a permanent home in Kenesaw. It’s been a long time coming for the school, but the wait is finally over.
“These fans have been behind us all the way,” Denkert said. “I’m glad we finally got to give them something like this.”