O'Toole passed for a career best 350 yards and four touchdowns as the Panthers stunned Pratt High 38-0 in Friday's Central Kansas League football opener.
Longtime fans could remember when Nickerson last beat the Greenbacks in 1990. But no one could recall if a Panther quarterback has ever thrown for four touchdowns or 350 yards.
Even the officials were taken aback when they forgot to signal for a running clock for several plays after the Panthers built a 35-point lead.
Receiver Jalen Karber caught a 79-yard touchdown pass for a 16-0 first-quarter lead. He leaped airborne over a defender on a dazzling 28-yard score for a 30-0 lead.
"It felt good to help my team and score some touchdowns," Karber said. "Yes, that second touchdown was definitely the best catch I've ever made. We had a great team effort tonight."
Sean Rodriguez spun off two tacklers and sprinted 88 yards for a highlight-reel reception for a 24-0 lead. Tyler Owen crossed the field on a nifty 36-yard touchdown reception for the finishing score.
O'Toole completed 15 of 23 passes for 350 yards and added a rushing touchdown. Karber led the way with 137 receiving yards and Owen and Rodriguez gained more than 100 yards receiving.
"My receivers helped me a bunch and definitely made me look good tonight," O'Toole said. "I was throwing the football up there and they were making the plays. They were amazing tonight. I never imagined we'd do something like this."
O'Toole said Pratt's defense was run conscious and gave the Panthers some opportunities in the passing game. Pratt's defense was stacked inside to take away Panther fullback Isaac Warman who rushed for 2,300 yards the past two years.
"Our coaches did a nice job and saw that we could try some passing plays," O'Toole said.
O'Toole credited a solid night from his offensive line, who gave him time to throw and helped the Panthers gain over 100 yards on the ground.
The Panthers started on fire when Tyler Owen returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but it was called back on a holding penalty.
Nickerson's defense set an aggressive tone from the outset when defensive end Tanner Vick sacked Pratt quarterback Skylar Dean for a safety for a 2-0 lead. The Panthers responded with a 41-yard touchdown drive capped by O'Toole's 14-yard quarterback keeper for an 8-0 lead.
"We started off strong and when our offense let up a little, our defense stayed strong," said Nickerson coach Max Heinlein. "We've got some good athleticism in the secondary. It's one of our better secondaries we've had. We got some good pressure on the quarterback early in the game. We did a nice defensive job tonight against a good offense."
The Panthers' preserved a shutout when Jake Stiverson intercepted a pass on a tipped pass after Pratt reached the 10-yard line. Nickerson's defense turned back Pratt's other threat when Dean overthrew an open receiver in the endzone after a double handoff on a promising drive to start the third period.
Nickerson has relied on a run-oriented offense in its Flexbone formation. But Heinlein likes the flexibility O'Toole and the receivers can provide.
"Pratt was playing with seven players in the box and was trying to take away our runnning game," Heinlein said. "We've got really nice balance and confidence in our receivers. They did a terrific job catching the ball and gaining yards after the catch. We were able to take advantage in the passing game."
Pratt coach Forrest Mazey relies on a spread offense built on quarterback play. Dean rushed for a team high 61 yards and Pratt completed 13 passes for 133 yards, but the Greenbacks never got a running game established and fought poor field position all night. The Panthers' Tyler Owen led a solid job making tackles after the catch.
"Nickerson played us physically at the line of scrimmage and made the plays that we didn't make," Mazey said. "We didn't execute our game consistently either offensively or defensively."
Mazey said Nickerson's elusive runners and receivers made the Greenbacks pay for missed tackles.
"We missed some tackles and we paid for it," Mazey said. "A couple times we missed and they were running for touchdowns."
Hesston visits Nickerson for an early showdown in the Central Kansas League next week. Haven travels to Pratt.