PITTSBURG, Kan. -- Turnovers. Big plays. They're both great when they work in favor of a football team. They're both detrimental to the cause when they work against a team.
Fort Scott High was hurt by turnovers and Pittsburg's big plays Friday night. The homestanding Purple Dragons scored 13 points off two Tiger fumbles and had 66- and 54-yard touchdown passes as they clinched the Southeast Kansas League championship with a 27-14 victory at Hutchinson Field.
"It was a great game," Fort Scott head coach Bob Campbell said. "We really appreciate the showing by our crowd. But we made just enough mistakes tonight. Pittsburg's a very good football team and a good football team will take advantage of your mistakes. We made some and that was really the difference in the game."
It was standing room only as the battle between the long-standings rivals kicked off. But on the game's first offensive play, Fort Scott fumbled and Pittsburg's Dylan Gromer recovered on the Dragons' 31-yard line.
Seven plays later, quarterback Joe Wimmer snuck the ball over the goal line to give the Dragons the lead. The extra-point kick was blocked.
The Tigers (5-1 SEK and overall) responded to that score by going on a long scoring drive. Jason Thorpe's 27-yard kickoff return set things up. Dane Cummings found 29 yards on the second play of the drive to get the ball to the Pittsburg 25.
The Dragons (5-0, 5-1) subbed in bigger plays on the line in an effort to stop the Tigers, who continued to gain yards in smaller chunks until Thorpe leaped over the top for the score from 2 yards out with 3:40 on the clock, capping a 10-play, 60-yard drive that lasted over five minutes. Jonathan Allen's PAT kick gave Fort Scott the lead, 7-6.
But it didn't take long for Pittsburg to reclaim the lead as Wimmer connected with Jornell Fondren from 66 yards out with 2:04 to go in the period. Wimmer kept the ball for the 2-point conversion as the Dragons assumed a 14-7 lead.
Fort Scott showed big-play capability of its own on the ensuing possession. Johnathan Stark hit tight end Straton Hunziker for a 53-yard play to get the ball to the Pittsburg 2. Two plays later, Thorpe scored again with the extra point tying the score 54 seconds into the second period.
Fort Scott was able to force Pittsburg to punt and then went on another long drive that looked to provide a go-ahead score before the half. But the Dragons forced another fumble, recovering at their own 10 with just over two minutes to go.
Five plays later, Wimmer found Dillon O'Dell, who made some moves in traffic and broke a tackle on his way to giving Pittsburg the lead instead with 56 seconds remaining.
"The turnovers hurt us," Campbell said. "Our running backs ran so hard that they started tackling the football. They were having trouble tackling our backs, so they were tackling the football.
"The one right before the half was big. Instead of being up 21-14, we're down 21-14."
Defense took center stage in the second half. The Tigers advanced into Pittsburg territory on consecutive possessions but couldn't cross the 40, punting once and losing another fumble. The only time the Dragons passed midfield in the third, they lost a fumble.
"The defense did a great job in the second half," Campbell said. "We moved the ball pretty well in the first half but in the second half, we couldn't really establish anything. We didn't do as good of a job of controlling the line of scrimmage."
Pittsburg went up by two scored at the end of an 11-play, 74-yard drive in the fourth. Wimmer ended that one with a 1-yard keeper with 3:37 remaining. The extra point was again blocked.
Fort Scott advanced to the Pittsburg 40 on its final drive but the Dragons broke through for sacks on the final two plays, taking over for good with 2:04 to go.
Even though the Tigers came out on the short end, Campbell said that the experiences they gained will help as the season progresses.
"Any time you play in a game like this, it just makes you better as a football team because the level of competition is better, the atmosphere is bigger, the game's bigger," he said. "So it's only a positive even though we came up short and it's painful and it hurts because of the time and effort everybody puts into this. We'll learn from it and we'll be a better team for it. And we'll come back next week, go to work and try to win a district title."
The Dragons finished with 358 yards of total offense, with 207 on the ground. Marcus Striplin led all rushers with 116 yards in 18 carries. Wimmer completed 4 of 6 passes for 151 yards and rushed for another 65 on 16 carries.
Fort Scott had 278 total yards, producing 182 of those on the ground. Cummings finished with 106 yards on 17 rushes and Thorpe added 58 on 19 carries. Stark went 5 of 6 for 96 yards with Reed Ramsey catching two for 25 yards.
Fort Scott will begin Class 4A District 6 play Friday night at home against Iola. This will also be the last time the schools face each other as SEK League rivals as Iola switches to the Pioneer League next season.
Editor's Note: A technical glitch has prevented the upload of the photos that accompanied this story in the print edition.