In the final week before districts it would be easy for a team to take things lightly and simply finish the game unscathed in order to protect its postseason chances. But that's absolutely the antithesis of everything that defines the Hutchinson Salthawks and the Derby Panthers.
Both defenses were strong out of the gate but it was Hutch that was able to get on the board with a field goal and a 3-0 lead. No one scored a touchdown until the second quarter when Chandler Shantz connected with DeAndre Goolsby for the laser touchdown and a 7-3 lead for the Panthers.
Hutch would answer when Trevor Turner, who was playing on an injured knee, found Emilio Tafolla for the catch, and he fell into the end zone to give the Salthawks the lead once again at 10-7.
Derby had the ball with about a minute left to play in the first half and they went to the air again. This time Shantz's pass was picked off by Tanner Higgins to set Hutch up for a final play. Naturally, that final play of the half went to Higgins. He took the handoff, reversed field and found his way into the end zone to give Hutch a 17-7 lead at the break.
The second half was an absolute onslaught of offense. Shantz started it off with a touchdown toss to Kellen Sims. Then the Panthers' special teams made a huge play, recovering the kickoff inside Hutch's red zone to set up another Panthers' touchdown. Once again Shantz found Goolsby in the end zone and in a matter of seconds Derby was on top 21-17.
The Panthers were able to get the ball back again but they fumbled deep inside their own territory and it was recovered by Hutch. The Salthawks made them pay with a quarterback draw up the middle and just like that Trevor Turner gave his team a 24-21 advantage in the third quarter.
The combination of Shantz and Goolsby would not be stopped, however, as the guys connected on a long reception to keep their drive alive into the fourth quarter. Shantz finished it off with another touchdown pass to Sims for a 28-24 lead.
The Panthers' defense was solid in the second half and once again forced a turnover on downs to give their offense a shot to ice the game. However, on a simple quarterback run play Shantz came up lame, grabbing his left leg. He left the game and Derby was unable to keep possession.
That gave Turner and the Salthawk's offense a little less than three minutes to drive down nearly the length of the field to retake the lead.
Of course, they did just that.
Turner busted through a gap and sprinted down the sideline for a huge gain getting his team inside the red zone. Higgins finished it off with the same option pitch he scored on earlier in the game. With just over a minute remaining in the game Hutch held a 31-28 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff history came back to haunt the Panthers. Much like Hutch did in the first half, Derby mishandled the kickoff and the Salthawks recovered, thus giving them just enough field and timeouts to seal the win.
The thoughts of the Eyewitness Sports and Catch it Kansas teams are with the family of Conner Littleton tonight. Littleton is a lineman from Derby who was seemingly knocked out on one of the final plays of the game and eventually had to be carried off on a stretcher. I heard that he was moving which is thrilling considering he lay motionless on the field for what felt like an eternity. We wish him a quick and healthy recovery.