HAVEN, Kan.—After back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Nickerson High fullback Isaac Warman is rounding into mid-season form.
The hard-running Warman rushed for a season high 131 yards and three touchdowns to spark the Panthers past rival Haven High 38-21 Friday night. Tailback Sean Rodriguez rushed for 98 yards and scored three touchdowns for the second consecutive football game.
Nickerson (5-1, 4-0 CKL) clinched an outright Central Kansas League South Division championship, its first league title in recent memory. The Panthers also avenged a 21-20 loss to Haven that kept them from post-season play last year.
The Panthers' offensive front of center Hagen Kaufman, guards Nate Hiatt and Cade Hawver and tackles Tanner Vick and Remington Fry led the way for 301 yards rushing on 50 attempts and 447 yards total offense.
"We came out and played a good game tonight," Warman said. "Our offensive line was awesome opening holes and we played as hard as we could on every play. That was amazing beating Haven our senior year. All our seniors are happy as we could be."
After leading 12-7 at halftime, the Panthers scored touchdowns on four of five second-half drives. The Panthers meshed together scoring drives covering 72 yards twice, 65 yards and 75 yards. Warman, Rodriguez and Tyler Owen finished off runs and powered through tacklers.
"Our backs ran with extra intensity that we had not seen," said Nickerson coach Max Heinlein. "Haven had us in the backfield, but our backs made great plays. In the second half, our offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Our running game was there the whole way. We developed confidence in every play we were calling."
Nickerson plays Cheney (4-2) at home next week while Andale (5-1) meets Buhler (4-2) in the state's toughest Class 4A football District.
"This was a good game to gear up for the next three games," Heinlein said. "We haven't really thought about winning a league title. After the season, we'll enjoy it."
Nickerson quarterback Ryan O'Toole completed nine passes for 146 yards. A 66-yard pass to Jalen Karber set up Rodriguez's clinching touchdown for a 38-21 margin.
Haven (3-3, 0-3 CKL) pieced together three touchdown drives behind a nice mix of running by Austin Fritzemeier, and Trae Regier and timely runs and passes by quarterback Tim Hendrickson. Haven gained 289 yards total offense.
"Every time we blew an assignment or didn't communicate, Haven took advantage," Heinlein said. "Haven has a tremendous offensive team that should make a run in their district."
Haven scored on Tim Hendrixson's 3-yard run for a 7-6 lead. Nickerson converted Haven's only turnover into a score when Tyler Owen forced a fumble that Cade Hawver recovered. Nickerson converted a 53-yard scoring drive for a 12-7 lead on Warmsn's second TD.
The Wildcats' other pivotal drive reached the Panther 9-yard line right before halftime when Eric Shive missed a 26-yard field goal.
Trae Regier scored on a 2-yard run and Zach Hendrixson added a 25-yard
touchdown run to draw the Wildcats with 26-21 with 10:50 left. But the Wildcats failed to get a defensive stop in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats' offense lost its rhythm in the second half after quarterback Tim Hendrixson left the game with symptoms of a possible concussion, forcing Shive to play quarterback. A couple of penalties gave the Panthers extra yards and forced the Wildcats into long yardage situations.
"Our second half did not go the way we wanted it to," Self said. "We made some offensive adjustments and it was working. But we got tired and got outworked and did some things that they took advantage of. The penalties got into our head and affected our play."
Self, a Nickerson High graduate, said he was proud of the effort playing against his former high school.
"In the big picture, this was a good football game to play for Haven High," Self said. "It hit home more for me last year winning at Nickerson. It was nice to see my relatives watching us play."
Self said Nickerson defended Regier superbly after he scored on a 96-yard kickoff return and a 96-yard touchdown run last season. Linebacker Warman and defensive end Tanner Vick tackled Regier for crushing back-to-back losses on his first two carries. Regier rushed for 58 yards on 14 carries.
"They keyed on Trae Regier hard," Self said. "We worked hard to get the ball in his hands, but Nickerson did a good job stopping us from doing that. We ran some good counters off of that."
Haven opens Class 3A District play against Garden Plain (6-0). Hutchinson Trinity (5-1) and Kingman (2-4) are also in the District.