OTIS, Kan. (KWCH) – Otis-Bison’s line is one of the biggest, more experienced units in eight-man football. Senior guard Luke Higgason is 220 pounds and a four-year starter.
Junior guard Hunter Mitchell weighs 210 and started as a sophomore. Junior 240-pound center Kendall Steinert had to replace all-stater Landon Hoopingarner up front.
The trio paved the way in a wild 66-52 home victory against Hutchinson Central Christian on Friday in a second round Eight-Man, Division II postseason matchup. Otis-Bison had all 405 yards, all on the ground.
“Our backs were hitting the hole hard, but our guys stayed with their blocks, they kept feet moving and they were getting after it tonight,” coach Travis Starr said.
Senior quarterback Anton Foust finished with 19 carries for 291 yards and seven scores, including TDs on three consecutive plays. This season, he has averaged 15.7 yards a carry. He has 71 rushes for 1,113 yards and 20 scores.
“Without it, I couldn’t have done anything,” Foust said of the line. “They deserve all the credit. (Steinert) has stepped up a lot. I am so impressed with his game now.”
Junior Seth Hoopingarner tallied 14 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s just working everyday at practice and making sure everything is going good,” Steinert said. “It’s nice, (Foust) is a tremendous runner. It makes it a lot easier for us. They might have been a little smaller, but they were a lot faster than all of our other opponents.”
The line play and two-point conversion defense trumped a massive night for HCC’s offense and junior quarterback Caleb Lambert. Central Christian led eight-man in points per game for a third straight year. CC entered Friday with 63.1 points a contest.
Lambert, a first-year transfer and son of former Sterling College head coach Chuck Lambert, led the Cougars to 101 plays for 496 yards. Central Christian recovered two onside kicks to start the second half.
“Especially their offensive line did a great job blocking us,” Central Christian coach Lee Smith said. “We weren’t able to get off blocks and make tackles, so I think that was the key to the game. They played a great game in the trenches, especially for their offense, and we just couldn’t stop them.”
The shifty, quick Lambert completed 29 of 49 passes for 277 yards with three scores against one interception. He rushed 39 times for 144 yards and five touchdowns. Junior Adam Hall led with eight catches for 107 yards and a TD.
“We fought very well,” Lambert said. “They are a very, very good team. Give them a lot of credit. Their o-line is very, very good. Best o-line we have played all year.”
Otis-Bison, a top-five team all season, improved to 8-1-1. Central Christian finished at 7-3. O-B will travel to 8-2 Dighton in the quarterfinals next week.
“This is definitely what we needed,” Foust said.
The game lasted just a shade under three hours. Central Christian had 496 yards, 91 more than O-B, and ran 66 more plays.
Both teams had played South Barber, another top-five squad, close. CC lost 70-68 to South Barber in three overtimes in Week 3, and O-B tied SB at 36 in a game called at halftime because of weather in Week 6.
The first half had similar traits to the SB/O-B contest with multiple lead changes and ties. Central Christian led 14-8 after the first quarter. Then, Foust scored on runs of 40 and 26 yards on back-to-back offensive plays. Lambert tied the game at 20 on a 2-yard run. Foust immediately scored on a 50-yard run for a 28-20 lead.
“We just had to grind,” Lambert said. “We just had to play, and we just had to keep plugging away, because going into the game, we knew that those things were going to happen. We knew that he was going to break some runs, so we knew that we just had to bounce back, and we couldn’t get too upset.”
Lambert again tied the contest at 28 on an eight-yard run before Foust scored from 21 yards out for a 36-28 advantage at intermission.
Many times, Foust took the handoff, had a quick pause and then sped forward. The 200-pound Foust again proved challenging to tackle and exceeded 1,000 rushing yards for a second straight season.
“It wasn’t the same play, but we had the blocking scheme ready,” Foust said. “I just had to beat one guy. I am just waiting for a hole, and I am hitting.”
Central Christian, known for its onside kicks, recovered an onside to start the second half. Lambert tallied a 1-yard run, but the Cougars missed the two-point conversion and trailed, 36-34, with 9:01 left in the third quarter.
“We haven’t been real good in two-point conversions, and in games like this, that adds up,” Smith said.
CC finished 2 of 8 on two-point conversions. Against South Barber, Otis-Bison did not allow any two-point conversions.
“We were being pretty physical with them,” Starr said. “I mean, that’s one thing we played better tonight than we did against South Barber. We were more physical with those guys. But when they don’t have 20 yards to throw the ball - you’ve got to cover so much space - it makes things a little easier for us. But two-point conversions for on offense, and two-point defense was almost the story of the game until it was real late.”
Then, Central Christian recovered another onside kick, but had a turnover on downs at the O-B 11-yard line. Foust rushed for 49 yards on the first play, and Hoopingarner finished with a 19-yard scoring run. Foust ran the conversion to bump the lead to 44-34.
“They played their hearts out,” Starr said. “We played our hearts out. It’s the dang onside kicks. Our offense was clicking, and we were doing good things, but (Lambert), he is a stud back there, so defensively, we knew when they were scoring, that they were going to be kicking some onside kicks, and they happened to get a few of them, so it was a hard-fought game on both sides. No one should be ashamed of anything tonight.”
O-B led 52-46 when it committed its lone turnover on a Foust fumble at the CC 16-yard line with 7:48 remaining. However, O-B senior Maitland Wiltse picked off a deflected pass four plays later.
“As soon as we recovered that fumble, that was our shot to take the lead and get back into the game,” Lambert said. “As soon as I threw that pick, I knew that I just blew a chance, and I felt like I kind of let my team down a little bit.”
Hoopingarner scored on the next offensive play on a 33-yard run that bumped the lead to 58-46.
“He himself says he isn’t fast, but I tell him with the ball in his hands, he is a fast kid,” Starr said. “He runs hard. He knows what he needs to do. He runs with power.”