The Hodgeman County Longhorns outscored and outlasted the Central Plains Oilers Saturday night, 44-36 to secure its spot in the final four of 8-man Division 1. And they can largely thank one decision for the victory - deferring the ball to the second half.
"All season we've taken the ball first. We've always taken the ball first, but for the first time we wanted to defer to the second half because we thought hopefully we could score right before the half and sure enough it happened that way. So, that was very big for us, said Hodgeman County head coach, Matt Housman."
Longhorns running back Kolt Washburn dove into the end zone to give Hodgeman County a 22-14 lead with just 0.7 seconds remaining in the first half, in what proved to be the scoring difference in the game.
Backed by the late score, Hodgeman County came out of the second half gates like a rocket ship heading for outer space.
Senior quarterback Alex Kreger lifted the fans to their feet with a 23 yard keeper, before finding pay dirt again on the Longhorns next possession to stretch the Hodgeman County lead to 24, 38-14.
But, the Oilers behind sophomore quarterback Braedan Crites have been an offensive juggernaut all season and weren't going to go away easily.
Crites and the Oilers began airing it out. First, a big double-reverse flee flicker throw from Layne Bieberle to Michael Lamatsch set up a short 4 yard touchdown pass from Crites to Bieberle to cut the Longhorns lead to 38-22.
Then, Crites found Lamatsch for a quick touchdown pass to pull the Oilers within 10, 38-28.
You could sense the momentum changing rapidly, until Bieberle mishandled a reverse hand off exchange with Crites as they were looking for more and Landon Henning recovered for Hodgeman County.
The Longhorns made good on the mishap on the very next play as Washburn took the pitch, found a seam and was off to the races for his 2nd rushing touchdown of the game to make the score 44-28.
Central Plains would strike back as Crites found thousand yard receiver, Bieberle with a beautiful deep ball in the back of the end zone to bring the Oilers within one score, 44-36.
Chaos would ensue over the final few minutes as penalty flags flew and the clock had to be reset countless times. But, with a broken up pass by Kreger intended for Bieberle the time ran out and Hodgeman County was moving on as Regional Champions.
Housman said, "I really don't know what happened. I'm still a little confused about what happened, but we had a big lead like last week and they came back. But, we knew with this team especially that they'd be able to come back with their passing ability. They have a great receiver, (Bieberle) great quarterback (Crites). We had to do some things to mix it up and confuse them hopefully with the pass rush. I don't know if it worked or not but we're glad to have a victory."
Hodgeman County (11-0) will host Hoxie (10-1) in the Sub-State Round next Friday after the Indians defeated previously unbeaten Kiowa County 38-8 earlier in the day.