Buhler High tailback Riley Allen scored a record-tying six touchdowns to spark the Crusaders to their ninth consecutive football playoff berth.
Allen rushed for a career high 319 yards as the Crusaders rolled past Nickerson 48-20 Thursday to clinch the runner-up playoff berth in Class 4A, District 13.
The Crusaders (7-3, 2-1) defeated Ulysses 28-7 in their playoff opener and advance to Saturday's second-round 4 p.m. home game against Concordia (8-2).
The Crusaders’ offensive line of center Quentin Gould, guards Henry Hickert and Josh Goertzen, tackles Jon Yates and Josh Neufeld and tight end Brandon Keeler paved the way for 457 yards rushing.
Allen scored on touchdown runs of 1, 3, 3, 30, 51 and 57 yards.
“Riley had a great night and showed great vision and great feet,” said Buhler coach Steve Warner. “Our offensive line performed well. I’m very happy for Riley and our offensive line. That’s the way we want to play football.”
Several of Allen’s touchdown runs were of the highlight-reel variety with textbook cutback runs. He couldn’t remember some of the details except for one score keyed by a block by Neufeld.
“The first thing I think is that was amazing blocking,’’ Allen said. “I just ran to the holes.”
Allen tied Buhler’s school record of six touchdowns in a game with Jorden Oden and Tanner Fisher.
“We didn’t have a defensive answer to Buhler’s running game,” said Nickerson coach Max Heinlein. “We didn’t tackle Allen when we had a chance. He can stop-and-start on a dime and that’s tough. He got us going in one direction and cut it back when we overpursued.”
Buhler scored on three Allen touchdown runs of 30-, 57 and 1 yard while Nickerson responded with big plays in the passing game. Jake Stiverson made a circus catch in the corner of the endzone. Sean Rodriguez hauled in a tipped pass for a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the half.
The Crusaders scored on three consecutive third-quarter drives for a 41-12 lead. Buhler started the second half with a 76-yard touchdown drive and converted a Dalton Stoss interception into a 17-yard scoring drive. Allen added a 51-yard TD dash.
“It was one of our better football games,” said coach Warner, who earned his seventh straight playoff trip at Buhler. “We finished drives. Our defense played well and our special teams performed well. It was a good night. That’s the best Nickerson team we’ve played.”
The Panthers battled within 41-20 when Jalen Karber caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Ryan O’Toole and Isaac Warman converted the 2-point play just as the fourth quarter started.
But the Crusaders converted a 3rd-and-29 into a first down when an official 20 yards from the play called the Panthers for a pass interference penalty when a receiver and defender fell as their feet got tangled. Luke Berblinger capped the 71-yard drive on an 11-yard touchdown for a 48-20 margin.
“It was a huge call,” Heinlein said. “Had we got the ball back and scored quickly, we would’ve had the momentum back in our favor.”
Nickerson quarterback O’Toole completed three touchdown passes and threw for 237 yards. The Panthers (6-3, 1-2) enjoyed their best record in 10 years and captured the Central Kansas League South Division title.
O’Toole completed touchdown passes to Jake Stiverson, Sean Rodriguez and Karber. Karber and Warman each had 71 yards in receiving yards. O’Toole finished 21 of 32 passing with two interceptions.
“Ryan threw the ball really well and they played us with soft corners, so we could throw underneath all night,” Heinlein said. “Our kids were making good catches. Our receivers performed well.”
Buhler finished with 502 total yards. Dalton Stoss and Scott Whitson intercepted passes and the Crusaders sacked O’Toole six times for 44 yards in losses.
Heinlein said he was proud how his team battled in the state’s toughest Class 4A football district. It was the Panthers’ best season since 2002. Nickerson’s last playoff trip came in 2007.
“That’s the trait of this team all year,” Heinlein said. “They give us 150 percent all year long through four quarters. Those seniors played hard all the way through tonight.”