PHILLIPSBURG, Kan. Phillipsburg senior Jonathan Hunnacutt is the state’s all-time leader in career kicking points. On Friday, Hunnacutt, a first-year starting defensive end, shined in another phase with seven tackles, a sack and forced fumble on the same snap and a key blocked punt.
Phillipsburg (#1 2A) defeated MCL rival Smith Center (#1 1A) 42-14 on Friday, September 14, 2018. (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com)
Hunnacutt was one of many Panthers to produce a big play for talent-laden Phillipsburg in its 31-14 home victory against Hoisington in the Class 2A sub-state championship game.
“It was my first time actually playing on the field other than kicking,” he said. “It feels good, get out there and help out a little more. (Coaches) just say ‘Do your job, and stay there and don’t get lit up and don’t do something dumb.’”
Phillipsburg moved to 12-0 and into the second state title contest in school history. The Panthers captured the 2-1A state crown in 2015. Phillipsburg will face Riley County (10-2) in the state title next Saturday.
Hoisington tied the best finish in school annals and went 9-3. In the regular season, Phillipsburg beat the Cardinals, 51-21, in Week 7. The Panthers took advantage of some early turnovers and built a 41-0 halftime lead.
Five weeks later, Hoisington stopped Phillipsburg on downs inside the Cardinal 5-yard line on the game’s first drive.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Cardinals took a 7-0 lead on a nine-yard scoring TD from sophomore quarterback Mason Haxton with 10 minutes, 55 seconds left in the first half.
Phillipsburg tied the contest two plays later on a 68-yard touchdown run from senior Nathan Moon and a Hunnacutt extra point.
“The linemen were able to get a key block downfield on the linebackers, and then I had a 1-on-1 matchup with the safety, and was able just make it right past him,” Moon said. “It was exactly what we needed to put us right back in the game. We needed that to show that we were still able to play.”
It marked the second straight week Phillipsburg has rebounded from a deficit after the 25-24 quarterfinal road win versus Conway Springs.
“The last couple of weeks, we have kind of proven to ourselves that we are resilient,” coach J.B. Covington said. “Find a way to bounce back. The kids just really believe in each other, and you can hear them again just like last week, they were all saying on the sidelines, ‘Stay the course, just keep going. We’ve got to answer. Any time that they score, we’ve just got to go answer.’”
Moon went right and broke a tackle in the secondary before he outran the defense. He finished with five carries for 86 yards. On the next possession, Hunnacutt broke through on 3rd-and-5, collected the sack and forced fumble that led to a seven-yard loss.
“He held his ground all night long against some bigger offensive linemen,” Covington said of the 5-11, 195-pound Hunnacutt.
On the next play, Hoisington had a bad snap. Senior Derek Boxberger ran back, picked up the ball and punted it, but Hunnacutt blocked the attempt.
“I was just trying to tackle him, and then he just punted it into my hands, and then I tried to grab it, but they were already on it,” Hunnacutt said.
Phillipsburg started the drive at the Hoisington 15-yard line, and Hunnacutt kicked a 27-yard field goal for a 10-7 advantage.
“That’s just amazing plays by him, and stepping up, being a senior, doing exactly what he needs to,” Moon said.
The Panthers lengthened the lead to 17-7 just before halftime on a 22-yard pass from senior Trey Sides to his brother, sophomore Ty Sides. Ty delivered a great catch in 1-on-1 coverage.
Hoisington opened the second half with a drive that amassed 8 minutes, 4 seconds and ended on a 1-yard run from Cardinal junior running back Wyatt Pedigo. He cleared 2,000 rushing yards this fall. He finished with 26 carries for 148 yards and hauled in two catches for 49 yards.
“Phillipsburg is really talented, and offensively they have got so many weapons, so for us offensively, we had to do a good job keeping our defense off the field and sustaining drives, and I thought we did that,” Hoisington coach Zach Baird said. “The drive we came out with the second half was really good, and unfortunately when it came down to getting a stop we just couldn’t do it.”
On the next drive, Phillipsburg senior running back Cha’ron Ellis went out of the game with a significant concussion with 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the third quarter. Ellis had seven carries for 33 yards. Covington headed to the hospital immediately after the contest to check on Ellis.
On the next play, Sides delivered a remarkable play when he went left, and under pressure, threw across his body for a 16-yard pass to his brother.
“It’s hard to get to him, because he is so elusive,” Baird said. “And he will get out of the pocket in a hurry, and once he does, he does a good job keeping his eyes down field and trying to find open guys.”
After a penalty, Sides, a four-year starting quarterback, had another thrilling pass. He scrambled in the middle and found Gross for a short completion on the right sideline. Gross raced down the sideline for a 39-yard score.
“It was a play that didn’t pan out very well from the initial play call, but he extended the play,” Covington said. “And when he extends plays, good things happen for us.”
Sides went 6 of 10 passing for 104 yards. Gross added a four-yard touchdown run late and delivered 15 carries for 89 yards. Phillipsburg bumped to 5-0 against Hoisington since 2012 and knocked the Cardinals out of the playoffs for the second straight season.
“It feels amazing to qualify,” Hunnacutt said. “I am speechless, it is awesome.”