Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Best That Never Were: The story of the 2004 Kansas Class 5A state championship game and the end of a dynasty

Olathe North's defense smothers SM West running
back DJ Barnett during the game played on 
September 17, 2004. The Eagles won, 42-0.

I'm back with another video. I know. That didn't take long. 

Let me take you back to the fall of 2004. I was a freshman at SM West. Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw and Mr. Brightside by the Killers flooded the airwaves. 

A few weeks into September, in the third game of the season, our undefeated Vikings traveled to ODAC to take on Olathe North. We thought we had a chance. We didn't.

I can remember watching from the stands as the Eagles poured it on. 7-0. 14-0. 21-0. 28-0. 35-0. 42-0. Eighteen years later there are two plays from that game I can still distinctly remember: 

(1) A 48-yard touchdown run from Justin Gore where he went off-tackle right, then seamlessly dipped back left under a wave of out-of-position Viking defenders to take it to the house (this run is featured at the 16:51 mark of my new video below).

(2) A 70-yard BOMB from Dustin Moomau to Randy Shepherd on a Go Route up the right sideline. Shepherd beat the defender, caught the ball in stride, and waltzed untouched into the endzone. My older brother, who was on the field as a defensive end on the play, recalls seeing the ball leave Moomau's hand and the sonic "whoosh" noise that followed.

To this day it was the single most impressive performance I have seen from a Kansas high school football team. And this wasn't just a one game affair. 

The Eagles destroyed everyone in their path leading up the 5A state championship game. The high school media pundits from around the metro were certain this was the best Olathe North team of all time. I was too.

You could imagine my surprise, and everyone else's, when Olathe North lost in the state title game. And to a three loss team from Salina no less. It seemed impossible.

I read the recaps in the KC Star in the days that followed, and did cursory research on the game throughout the years. But I was never satisfied. I wanted to know more about those two teams and what happened that Saturday afternoon.

The years passed. Websites were deleted, archives were erased, and the public record of this game was relegated to a single line in the KSHSAA's PDF handbook of former state champions.

Then one day I came across a Youtube video featuring Salina South's playoff run. It was slanted toward Salina South, but it included a good portion of the highlights from the state title game with Olathe North. 

For the first time I was able to watch real-time footage of the game. For the first time Olathe North's loss was real. 

It sparked an idea. I was going to document this story.

I was not able to get ahold of the complete game video from the title game. But I made some phone calls and managed to snag a copy of Olathe North's week six tilt with Olathe East from that year. That gave me enough footage to make the video workable. 

A few months later I began the project. And I caught a couple breaks in the process. 

During the pandemic of 2020, a Salina radio station, KSAL 1150, conducted a series of interviews recapping the heydays of Salina high school football from the 1990s and early 2000s. A couple of the interviews covered this very game. Gold.

Newsbank, an online newspaper database available through most public libraries, allowed me to access all of the the newspaper articles from that season. Gold.

Last, Olathe North was really good for a long time. There were just enough YouTube highlight videos to puzzle together what I wanted to do. Some even included highlights of the 2004 Eagles.

This project was fun. It was insightful. And I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. 


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