Wildcat offense halted by Holcomb in 4A-DII title game
In more ways than one, Holton was in a familiar position in Salina on Saturday in the Class 4A-Division II state championship action.
The Wildcats were making their seventh state title game appearance over the weekend, but some bad habits from earlier in the season came back to bite the team against a stout foe from Holcomb, which claimed its first state title in football with a 21-0 victory.
Conditions were certainly not ideal during the game, with the field coated in ice and looking like a literal frozen tundra on Saturday afternoon. While both teams had to deal with it, the icy field seemed to affect Holton more as the game progressed.
“I think, number one, it was hard for us when we got to the perimeter to make the cut and go and made it a little easier for them to tackle in the open field. When we did break them, we had a couple of times where we overcut,” HHS coach Brooks Barta said. “We just couldn’t hit it quite as fast and it gave them a better chance to make a play down the field. They were really athletic. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say they were a more athletic team than we were.”
Early on, it looked as though Holton would take the first lead of the game. The offense stalled on the first two drives, but was warming up, and the defense held the Longhorns in check.
After pinning Holcomb deep in its own territory after their second drive, the Wildcats then got the first big play of the game as AJ Haussler picked off a pass by Longhorn quarterback Trey Teeter on third down.
That set up the Holton offense at the Longhorns’ 40-yard line, but the Wildcats proceeded to immediately turn the ball over on downs and Holcomb quickly made them regret that missed opportunity.
Teeter went right back to the air and connected with two big pass plays, including one to Brandon Stegman that set Holcomb up at the Wildcats’ two-yard line. Running back Dillon Williams then finished the job with a touchdown run that gave the Longhorns a 6-0 lead four minutes into the second quarter.
Following that score, the teams traded punts and Holton got the ball back with a chance to even things up with a little over three minutes left until halftime.
With the pressure on, the Wildcats started to get into a rhythm on offense in the tough, icy conditions as Mason Barta, Spencer Baum and Justin Pool all had key runs in the series.
Holton was on the cusp of a score with the ball at the Holcomb 12-yard line, but Barta noted poor clock management hindered the Wildcats in the waning seconds of the first half and quarterback Justin Rieschick was forced to heave a pass towards the end zone that was broken up and fell to the ground.
“That’s been kind of our story this year. We get in the right position with some good plays, then we have a bad play,” Barta said. “That had a lot to do with the quality of team we were playing also.”
After halftime, the Longhorns broke a big run to keep their momentum rolling as they caught Holton out of position and quickly got into scoring range once again.
The Wildcats buckled down on defense and forced a fourth and goal scenario, but the play that ensued was indicative of how the day went for Holton.
Will Wright (playing with a partial cast on his left arm) stepped in front of a pass in the end zone, but he couldn’t haul in the interception and the ball ended up bouncing off of his shoulder pads and into the hands of Holcomb receiver Braden Showalter for a touchdown.
“There were just a lot of really close, pivotal plays and it seems like most of them fell in their favor,” Barta said. “That was one of those pivotal plays. There were two or three fourth down situations on both teams that were pivotal and you felt like it just wasn’t in the cards after you watched all those things happen.”
Barta noted his team had been looking forward to the game with the originally predicted forecast of rain, wind and bitter cold, but the unexpected field of “sonic ice” continued to wreak havoc on Holton as the game progressed.
Along with not being able to gain traction or reverse direction, the ice also limited the impact of the Wildcats’ offensive line and their ability to finish blocks as Holton remained in neutral on that side of the ball.
Given the hurdles Holton has overcome this season, 6-0 and 14-0 deficits were not end-of-the-world scenarios, but the Longhorns seemed to put the game out of reach with three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Wildcat secondary was in good position again, but Teeter lobbed a ball just out of reach of Holton’s defensive backs to allow Showalter to make another play and catch which he turned into a 59-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead for Holcomb.
It was as close as a three-score game could be, but the breaks continued to go Holcomb’s way as Stegman came up with a sack on the defensive end on the Wildcats’ next drive to effectively end the game.
Besides doing everything right, Barta noted sometimes you have to catch those breaks. Holton just didn’t get them against a good opponent and the coach noted his players should still feel proud after finishing 9-4 and runner up in 4A-DII.
“All we ask our kids to do is to continue to improve and become a team. We played as a team. We got better in every phase of the game,” Barta said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of or feel bad about. That’s just the way the ball rolls sometimes. You play a lot of good teams and the ball bounces your way and you get through, the ball doesn’t bounce your way and sometimes you don’t.”
Nov. 28, 2015
HHS: 61 plays, 187 total yards, zero turnovers and one penalty for 10 yards.
Holc.: 37 plays, 278 total yards, one turnover and four penalties for 31 yards.
Rushing: HHS- Barta (19-64), Baum (21-54), Pool (9-38), Rieschick (8-15), Zeller (1-3); Holc.- Stegman (12-80), Merz (1-23), Williams (8-14-1 TD), Teeter (3-9), Tichenor (3-5).
Passing: HHS- Rieschick (1-3-13); Holc.- Teeter (6-9-150-2 TDs-1 INT).
Receiving: HHS- Brandt (1-13); Holc.- Showalter (2-66-2 TDs), Merz (2-52), Stegman (1-25), VanCleave (1-7).
Defense: HHS- Brandt (9 tackles, 1 TFL), Haussler (7 tackles, INT), Aeschliman (8 tackles), Price (5 tackles, 1 TFL), Zeller (6 tackles), Barta (5 tackles).