Big first half helps Wildcats soar over Red Hawks on the road
From the way the game started on Friday, it looked like the Holton football team was primed to open up and roll to a big victory on the road in Hiawatha.
While the Wildcats took a commanding 27-0 lead into halftime, they got bogged down in a quagmire in the second half as sloppy play persisted in the final two quarters, though Holton remained in control on the way to a 34-6 victory.
Those second half woes seemed to be indicative of a pattern the offense has fallen into early this season, as the Wildcats continually take two steps forward and one step back. That’s something HHS coach Brooks Barta said his team has to overcome.
“We knew going into the game we probably weren’t there because some days we were having a hard time being responsible for all our blocking assignments and responsibilities,” Barta said. “One thing when you see a lot of different defenses against what we do is we’re going to make some mistakes early and hopefully here in the next couple of weeks, by the time districts roll around, we know how to block everything, become more consistent and make fewer mistakes.”
Penalties continued to hamper Holton in Friday’s league game as they slowed down what looked like an otherwise explosive and unstoppable group that took the field.
Right away, Justin Rieschick took the opening kickoff and returned it all the way for a would-be touchdown 15 seconds into the game. That score was negated, though, by a block in the back penalty. A few plays later, Spencer Baum officially put the Wildcats on the scoreboard with a seven-yard touchdown run.
While Hiawatha showed off its penchant for converting third and longs on its first drive, Holton eventually forced a punt and wasted no time getting back in the end zone.
On the second play of the Wildcats’ next offensive series, Baum broke free again, this time for a 30-yard score that gave the visitors an early 14-0 lead. Baum and the number of weapons Holton has in the backfield proved to be a strength for the team on Friday.
“I think we do have a lot of depth and speed at our running back position and that’s an advantage if somebody forces you into a perimeter game and, with what they did defensively, they were begging us to run to the perimeter. That’s pretty important as to keep a defense a little bit spread out,” Barta said.
After numerous penalties hindered both teams on their next possessions (ending in a failed fourth down for Holton and a turnover for Hiawatha), the Wildcats got rolling again after Rieschick came up with a big interception on the defensive end.
Justin Pool looked to break another big play for the offense with a 68-yard touchdown run on the first offensive play following the pick, but once again the score was wiped away on a penalty.
In the long run, it didn’t seem to slow down the offense in the slightest as Rieschick then connected with tight end Austin Frakes for a 38-yard pass play on third and long and Pool then got his touchdown from 39 yards out to put Holton up by three scores shortly into the second quarter.
“I think we’ve got dangerous receivers at tight end and Justin (Rieschick) throws the ball well, so I think it’s something people have to think about defensively,” Barta said of Holton’s passing game.
Rieschick then kept it on the ground and sprinted up the middle for a 34-yard touchdown on Holton’s next possession, while the defense continued to keep the Red Hawks in check.
The Wildcats shut down a couple of fourth down attempts by Hiawatha on back-to-back possessions and Barta noted the unit was playing assignment-sound football for the most part in the first half. The defensive line also stepped up and made some much-needed big plays to help contain the Red Hawk offense on Friday.
With five linemen injured and on the sideline, execution was at a premium in the game against Hiawatha. That faltered in the second half, with players trying too hard and not finishing tackles, but Barta noted the defense showed some progress in the first half.
In its final drive of the first half, Holton couldn’t quite match its earlier success in the passing game. Still, the Wildcats had a chance for a field goal. That attempt was blocked, but the visitors remained ahead 27-0 at the break.
Barta noted the focus at halftime centered on player responsibilities and making fewer mistakes and some of that got lost in the sluggish second half. Defensively, there were some breakdowns that allowed Hiawatha to keep moving the ball, but the Wildcats managed to allow just one score in the fourth quarter.
That followed a quick touchdown run by Will Wright to start the second half for Holton and while that unit didn’t see the field too often in the second half, the coach noted it put together a nice drive in the end to take time off the clock on the way to a 34-6 victory.
It might not have been perfect, but Barta noted the Wildcats are getting better and after a rough start to the season the coach noted he wants to maintain that pattern moving forward.
“Winning’s always important. We’re used to winning. It’s tough for us to get a couple close losses early in the season, but I don’t think our focus ever changes,” Barta said. “We’re competing against ourselves, especially at this time of the season where we’re trying to prepare ourselves to be successful in districts and the playoffs.”
The Wildcats (2-2) could learn a lot about how ready they are for the postseason as the team faces a big challenge in its homecoming game this week, welcoming in undefeated Nemaha Central for a 7 p.m. league contest this Friday.
Sept. 25, 2015
Holton: 39 plays, 389 total yards, zero turnovers and eight penalties for 66 yards.
Hiawatha: 57 plays, 201 total yards, two turnovers and eight penalties for 65 yards.
Rushing: Pool (7-75-1 TD), Baum (8-73-2 TDs), Wright (3-69-1 TD), Patch (5-50), Rieschick (5-50-1 TD), Barta (3-19), Zeller (1-2), Strader (2-(-2)).
Passing: Rieschick (2-5-53).
Receiving: Frakes (1-38), Brandt (1-15).
Defense: Aeschliman (14 tackles, 1 TFL), Nelson (11 tackles, fumble recovery), Brandt (10 tackles), Rieschick (7 tackles, pass deflection, forced fumble, INT), Barta (9 tackles), Frakes (7 tackles), Zeller (7 tackles).