Hoisington comeback bid comes up short in 2A thriller

Published: Nov. 28, 2020 at 6:09 PM CST
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SALINA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Fitting, the only two unbeaten teams left in Class 2A were the two squads battling it out for a state championship Saturday afternoon in Salina. Hoisington, playing in its first title game in school history, fell into a 14-0 halftime hole to offensive juggernaut Rossville. The Cardinals made a game of it late but two costly turnovers helped the Bulldogs hang on 27-20 for a fourth state championship in seven seasons.

“A lot of these kids were young football players and on the field for us several years ago,” Rossville coach Derick Hammes said. “There was a lot of hard work that went into this. This was a four-year body of work what these kids were able to do.”

“This was a very special group,” said Hoisington coach Zach Baird. “Like I told the guys, it stings and it hurts coming up short, but the hardest thing is saying goodbye to our seniors. What a special group. I love every one of them, so to have to say goodbye to them on a bad note, that makes it tough. They can keep their head up. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Rossville entered the game averaging nearly 59 points a game while allowing just 14 points a night. Hoisington’s own high-powered offense was stymied until the second half after senior Hunter Morris halted the first Bulldog drive with an interception. Four plays later Cardinal senior Mason Haxton ran 17 yards to whittle the lead to 14-6.

Rossville’s junior quarterback Torey Horak entered the game with better than 2,800 yards of total offense and 51 touchdowns on the season. Picked off just twice all year, he threw a second interception of the second half on the second Bulldog drive of the third quarter. The Cardinals punted it back several plays later.

Horak was again big when it mattered with a touchdown run and touchdown pass in the first half. His 66 yard run on third down put the Bulldogs back up two scores at 20-6 with 1:10 to play in the third.

Then things began to get interesting. Haxton kept the next Cardinal drive alive with a big third-down run. Two plays later he found a wide-open Cole Steinert on a 32-yard touchdown pass.

The Cardinal defense forced a quick three-and-out from Rossville but fumbled on their first play from scrimmage inside the 10. Horak ran in from a yard out two plays later to again push the lead back to two possessions at 27-12.

Time now a factor, Hoisington got two big passes from Haxton, first a 42-yard completion to senior Dylan Richards, then an 11-yard touchdown pass to Steinert. The Cards converted their first and only 2-point try of the game to pull within a score at 27-20 with under six minutes to play.

Once again Hoisington was able to force a quick Bulldog possession, first forcing fourth-and-inches, then capitalizing on a false start penalty on the next play.

Ball in hand, Hoisington needed to march 90 yards in the final 3:49 to set up an opportunity for the win. The Cards went for it on fourth-and-long in the shadow of their own goal line and kept the chains moving on a pass interference call. Holt Hanzlick ran 10 yards on third-and-five but two plays later Hoisington coughed it up again. This one virtually ended the game.

“The last one was just a bad mesh,” Baird said. “The other one we just didn’t do a good job on the perimeter getting everyone blocked up. We tried to pitch it and a guy got a hand on it.”

Five of the first six possessions in the game ended with punts. Horak capped Rossville’s 79-yard drive to open the game with a 4-yard run, and a Haxton interception on Hoisington’s fourth possession ultimately netted a nice grab from six-foot-five William Reeves on a short pass from Horak. That resulted in a 14-0 score at the half.

Horak again carried the Bulldog offense with 161 rushing yards and three scores on 23 carries. He threw for another 89 yards and a score with two interceptions on 9-of-18 passing.

Haxton ran a season-high 14 times for 74 yards to lead Hoisington. He also threw for 101 yards and two scores on 4-of-10 passing. Hanzlick ran the ball 18 times for 72 yards, and Steinert had a big day on both sides of the ball. He caught three passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 30 yards on eight carries.

Hoisington ends its record run at 12-1. Rossville finishes a perfect season at 13-0.

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