Kingman’s touchdown on the final play of the first half gave the Eagles badly-needed momentum.
But Tyler Owen’s kickoff return for a touchdown off a block by Sean Rodriguez to start the second half swung the game back to Nickerson en route to a 30-14 Central Kansas League football victory Friday night.
“That was a big play to start the second half,” said Nickerson coach Max Heinlein.
Nickerson (3-1, 3-0 CKL) clinched a share of the South Division title while Kingman dropped to 1-3 and 0-2 in league play. Nickerson plays at Lyons next week and Hesston travels to Kingman.
Nickerson used its superior speed to score on four long scoring plays. Owen made several good moves to score on a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan O’Toole for an 8-0 lead. Sean Rodriguez used his speed on an 18-yard cutback run for a 14-0 lead. Isaac Warman scored on a 16-yard touchdown behind perfect blocking for the final score.
Hagen Kaufman replaced injured center Duncan Ensminger and joined guards Nate Hiatt and Cade Hawver and tackles Remington Fry and Luke Hertel in the starting offensive line.
“Kingman came out and played tough, physical football,” Heinlein said. “At times, we responded very well to that. We just need to make sure we do that for 48 minutes. We came out and made some big offensive plays after Kingman scored. We caught them off guard a couple of times.”
Kingman ran 77 offensive plays and outgained the Panthers 329 yards to 262.
The Eagles ended the first half with a 65-yard drive capped by Nick Meng’s leaping 30-yard touchdown reception from Braxton Bangert on the final play of the first half. Kingman started the second half with a 78-yard scoring drive capped by Bangert’s 5-yard touchdown to draw within 22-14.
The Eagles’ offensive line did a solid job controlling the line of scrimmage at times. Braxton Bangert rushed for 104 yards to lead a 217-yard ground game. Kingman put together a 56-yard drive to start the game, but was stopped after a 5-yard motion penalty.
“We’ve gotten better offensively and made some progress on that side of the football,” said Kingman coach Curtis Albin. “We have to work the ball like that because we don’t have a great deal of speed. We put two really good drives together. Starting the game, we did the same thing, but came up with a penalty.”
Back-up middle linebacker Nate Hiatt led the Panthers’ defense, which played without starting middle linebacker Bailey Zulkoski.
“It was pretty awesome because I don’t get a chance to play that much defense,” Hiatt said. “It was pretty fun. My job was reading the guard, filling the gaps and reading the run. We put that first half behind us and came out strong that second half.”
Cornerback Jalen Karber was crowned Homecoming King and intercepted a pass for the Panthers’ only takeaway.
Heinlein said Nickerson did a good job being patient offensively after committing nine turnovers the past two weeks. Mitchell Packard intercepted a halfback pass by Warman for Nickerson’s only turnover.
“Kingman plays great defense and they flow fast defensively to the football,” Heinlein said. “They did a good job tackling us and made us work.”
Albin said the Panthers’ superior speed was the difference in a couple of big plays.
“Our defensive side has done a good job and has been ahead of our offense,” he said. “We received great effort from our defense. Nickerson has really good athletes and that’s why they’re a good football team.”