ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The game may not have ended the way they wanted it to, but Hillsboro High School’s two representatives to the Kansas Shrine Bowl-Coach Dustin McEwen and senior Jeremy Loewen-did themselves proud Saturday night at KSU Stadium.
A wild fourth quarter of breaks and mistakes resulted in nine unanswered points for the West squad and a 12-12 tie-the first tie in the 28-year history of the game.
“I guess I felt fortunate about it being a tie considering I didn’t think it was going be one for a long time,” said McEwen, head coach of the West team. “I thought it was probably over (when the East was leading 12-3 midway through the fourth quarter).”
Loewen, who played the entire game at defensive cornerback as well as a half-dozen plays on offense, said he took consolation after considering the bigger picture.
“I think the players were disappointed,” Loewen said. “But we talked about it after the game and agreed that this game was really for the kids anyway. They were the winners no matter what the score was.”
Proceeds from the Shrine Bowl go to pay medical expenses for children with severe burns or muscle problems.
Most of the game was a defensive battle mixed with untimely turnovers. Leading 5-3, the East appeared to take control of the contest when quarterback Andy Majors hit Tremel Guillory with a 64-yard touchdown pass with 10:54 to play.
When the East blocked a Justin Gray field-goal attempt with 4:52 left, the victory seemed secured. But officials ruled the East violated Shrine Bowl rules by blitzing safety Tim Harris, who blocked the kick.
Gray made good on his second attempt to cut the lead to 12-6.
The West stopped the East on the next possession, then tied the game on a 47-yard touchdown pass from Michael Hammersmith to Cortez Brown with 1:43 left. But Gray then missed the extra point which might have won the game.
The West got one more chance when it recovered an East fumble on the East 36-yard line-with Loewen assisting on the play.
The West then drove to the 27-yard line in three plays. On fourth-and-one with 1:22 left, McEwen went for the first down instead of a field goal, but running back Carlos Alsup was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The East took over and ran out the clock.
After the game, McEwen said he would have made the same fourth-down call if he had to do it over again.
“I still would have thought we could have picked up the fourth down,” he said. “We might have been in range for Justin Gray, but he had just missed the extra point. If we get a first down there and maybe another five or six yards on the next two downs, it would have made a little easier shot for him.”
Beyond the game, both McEwen and Loewen said they enjoyed their Shrine Bowl experience, which officially began with training camp July 19.
“The first few days I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into because it seemed like there was just so much to do,” McEwen said.
“As the week went on, after we got back (from visiting the Shriners’ hospital in St. Louis), things kind of settled down and we were on our own. Things kind of got better then.”
Meanwhile, Loewen said he wondered at first how he’d match up with star players from other schools.
“There were some guys who were were faster than me and bigger than me, but it didn’t really take very long to know I could play at that level,” he said.
As it turned out, getting to know those players was a highlight for the former Trojan, who will play for Tabor College this fall.
“I think the relationships I developed with the other guys was the most important thing,” he said. “I made some good friends.”
Also high on his highlight list was visiting the children at the Shriners’ hospital.
“It showed me just how much I really have and that I really shouldn’t complain about the little things- like playing time or having a sore finger,” he said. “These kids have so many more real challenges to face than I do and yet they greet every day with a smile.”
McEwen said his Shrine Bowl experience went about as well as he could have hoped.
“One of the best experiences for me in the camp was just that the other coaches were so great,” he said. “I really enjoyed the group we had this year. The kids did what we asked them to do.
“You don’t get the opportunity very often to coach in the Shrine Bowl,” he added. “That was just quite honor.”