By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
The St. Mary’s-Colgan Panthers hadn’t experienced anything quite like this in more than a decade.
Not only were the Panthers shut out in a 29-0 loss to Girard, they suffered consecutive losses for the first time in 14 years.
Sitting with a 3-2 record at the crossroads of its season, Colgan responded with a 30-7 win against Columbus. The Panthers have won five of their six games since the back-to-back losses to Frontenac and Girard and are now primed for a Class 3A quarterfinal game at 6 p.m. Friday in Rossville.
“I’m really proud of this group,” Colgan coach Chuck Smith said. “They came in with maybe one or one-and-a-half starters back from last year. So everybody was new. Our schedule was right at the beginning of the year, and we won three ball games which gave us some confidence. Then when we lost a couple games in a row, I really appreciated the kids’ attitude the way they continued to fight hard. They fought and scratched for every win they got all year long.”
In the school’s first season at the 3A level, Colgan (8-3) has defeated Neodesha and Humboldt to advance to the quarterfinals for the 14th consecutive season. As a perennial 2-1A powerhouse, Colgan advanced to nine state championship games and won four from 1999-2010.
Keeping the streak is important to the Panthers.
“It means a lot,” Colgan senior quarterback Dyson Dechant said. “We’ve had a great tradition here at Colgan. We don’t want to be the team that ends that. We want to uphold that and exceed expectations. It feels great to be even mentioned with the teams before us.”
But to keep the season alive, Colgan must go through the Rossville Bulldogs (10-1), who are on a five-game winning streak and are coming off a 28-27 come-from-behind victory at Sabetha.
The Bulldogs are led by senior quarterback Dalton Catron, who is effective as a runner and a passer. Caltron has completed 110-of-171 passes for 1,671 yards and 20 touchdowns, while rushing for 645 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“I think he’s the difference maker for them,” Smith said. “Without him, I don’t think they beat Sabetha. He’s the one who makes Rossville go.
“I think a key for us in this ball game is to put some pressure on that young man. He’s a scrambler. So not only do we have to put pressure on him, we can’t let him scramble around and make things happen. We can’t let him break the pocket. So it’s a big game for our defensive ends.”
But Calton isn’t Rossville’s only weapon. Sophomore running back Nick Reesor leads the team with 818 rushing yards, and the Bulldogs have six players with at least 10 receptions.
Rossville has one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the state, averaging 159.5 yards passing and 177.5 yards rushing.
“They’re kind of like us,” Colgan senior lineman Tieler Commons said. “They have a diverse offense, and they’re not the biggest but they’re quick like us. They don’t have real big linemen, but they’re going to be quick and they’re going to be real athletic.”
The Panthers are nearly as balanced as the Bulldogs, passing for 137.2 yards and running for 191.2 yards per game.
Dechant has improved as a passer for the Panthers. In Colgan’s 63-28 win against Humboldt on Saturday, Dechant completed 9-of-14 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns. He is 94-of-174 with 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season.
Senior Conner Dayton leads the rushing attack with 1,410 yards and 14 touchdowns on 214 carries.
“He’s a very instinctive running back,” Rossville coach Steve Buhler said. “He has a good bloodline with his dad (former Colgan all-state running back Putzer Dayton). He’s impressed our coaches. He has a forward lean and is able to use his blockers. He has intangibles you just don’t teach.”
The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the state semifinals and face the winner of Silver Lake (11-0) at Caney Valley (10-1).