Let’s Photograph Two

State championship football
Axtell’s post-championship breakdown.

This is a story about football, but before I can detail the fun Laura and I shared covering two high school state championship games back-to-back in Newton, Kansas, I must first reference a baseball player, the great Ernie Banks.

Banks played for the Chicago Cubs from 1953 until 1971 after beginning his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs, the city’s famed black baseball team. He became the Cubs’ first black player. A power hitter, blessed with a lightning-quick swing, Banks’ skills and desire led to a Hall of Fame career.

Banks love of the game led to the nickname “Mr. Sunshine” and his famous trademark quote, “It’s a beautiful day. Let’s play two.” He once explained his exuberance as a reminder to him and other players that “whatever their complaints, they got to play a game for a living, and hear the cheers of strangers.”

That leads me back to football and how Laura and I felt after covering the 8-player Division I & II State Football Championships on November 27. Let’s start with a beautiful day. Sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s for the Division I game at 11:00, and a late afternoon still warm and blessed with golden light for the Division II finale that ended just after sunset. Oh, and we got to take pictures, and we did hear cheers from strangers, not for us, but for the boys battling as part of four teams on the field.

Nothing reminds us more of how blessed we are by God to be graciously granted the talent, skill and desire to do this to the best of our abilities. Let’s just say we were happy they played two and how well they played out.

The Division I game featured defending state champion Little River against Meade. Both teams were undefeated, and both could handle themselves in shootouts. Little River advanced with a 76-68 victory in its semifinal, while Meade reached the finals 48-34.

Surely, scoring would soar in the championship matchup. After Meade jumped to an early lead, the two teams settled into back-and-forth scoring and a Meade lead of 22-14 in the second quarter. Stunningly, that proved to be the final score in a game marked by intense defensive efforts that led to Meade’s first state championship.

The Division II matchup featured Axtell and Wheatland/Grinnell in a rematch. Axtell won the season opener for both teams 62-16. However, the championship game proved to be much closer. Both teams traded early touchdowns. Leading 20-12 at the half, Axtell’s success on two-point conversions and the Thunderhawks’ failures hindered Wheatland/Grinnell’s comeback efforts.

In the fourth quarter, Axtell steadily broke the game open for a 44-18 victory. The title was their first since 1993. In the post-game huddle, elated head coach Eric Detweiler credited the team’s physical conditioning for the triumph, which meant they might have been able to “play two” or whatever it took to win the championship.

We hope our gallery showcases the two games and the teams whose play on a beautiful day would make Ernie Banks very proud.

Select to view full-size photographs

Jeff Jacobsen has photographed practically every big event the sports world has to offer during a professional career that spans over 52 years. Jacobsen has seen things up close that only a diehard sports fan could in their dreams. His work for the Topeka Capital-Journal, Arizona Republic, Kansas Athletics, Inc., many national publications and now Action Images Photography, Inc., cemented his reputation as one of the nation’s finest sports photographers.

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