By KEVIN THOMPSON
ULYSSES — On election night, it was only fitting that a football game would start off “too close to call.”
Then as the evening progressed, the gap widened and the results were quite clear.
After an unusually slow start, the Ulysses Tigers picked up momentum and turned a fairly close game into a 32-7 landslide victory over the Pratt Greenbacks in Class 4A Bi-district play.
Pratt’s defense kept them in the game early, shutting out the Tigers in the first quarter before yielding two touchdowns in the second.
And in the end, the party that controlled the clock also controlled the outcome. In this case the Tigers had the ball for 32 minutes, which meant Pratt’s defense was on the field far longer than planned, preventing their offense from finding a rhythm and being effective.
But the Tigers offense had little trouble once they got on track. They racked up 418 total yards, 288 of those on the ground on 58 carries, as they just wore down the Pratt defense.
Ulysses ran 63 plays while holding Pratt to just 33.
Tigers coach Jason Kenny said his defense was the key to the win, keeping the Pratt offense off the field most of the night, limiting them to just 166 yards of total offense, and controlling the play.
“I thought our defense was huge. Any time you get a shutout deep into the fourth quarter, you know, we played Tiger football tonight and got us a win,” he said.
That Tiger defense keyed on Jacob Siroky, Pratt’s senior running back, neutralizing his ground game by forcing him to the sidelines while limiting his runs upfield.
“We wanted to keep him off and keep him out of the question. He was our focus and we wanted to stop him. We did that and that shut him down,” junior Josh Jarnagin said.
Pratt nearly upset the tempo early. A halfback pass to the quarterback for 44 yards on their first play from scrimmage got the ball down to the Tiger 25, but they were forced to punt four downs later.
“It would have been a great way to break it open going up 7-0,” Pratt coach Jeff Fuss said. “It would have been great to score on that drive. It was a great play, but sometimes when you don’t score on it, it can backfire on you.”
It was Ulysses, then, who struck first, using a five-play drive with Armando Sandoval scoring from four yards out just into the second quarter.
Jarnagin led the Tiger ground attack, scoring two touchdowns and gaining 150 yards on 24 carries.
“Our line blocked great,” he said. “They gave me big old holes and I took the opportunity.”
Jarnagin has been averaging over seven yards a carry and is now over 1,000 rushing yards for the season.
Quarterback Braden Langston added an aerial dimension to the Ulysses offense, highlighted by a 44-yard touchdown pass to Andy Simpson in the third quarter after Langston was forced to scramble out of the pocket.
When the Tiger offense got rolling, it wore down the Pratt defense.
“Our kids played hard. We knew we’d play hard,” Fuss said. “We just made too many mistakes on the offensive side of the ball. We had a heck of a time trying to block those guys."
Though smaller than Pratt (5-5) has seen in a while, the Tigers were tenacious on both sides of the ball, Fuss said.
"Our kids were confused up front. Ulysses was on us so fast, we didn't know what hit us," he said. "Ulysses is a good team. They deserved to win. We deserved to be in the game, but we didn't take care of business."
Ulysses (8-2) will now travel to Hesston (8-2) for a 6 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. Hesston knocked off Concordia, 21-14, in its bi-district contest Tuesday.
By the numbers
Pratt 0 0 0 7 -- 7
Ulysses 0 13 12 7 -- 32
U — Sandoval 4 run (Jarnagin kick) 10:13
U — Jarnagin 7 run (kick wide) 2:24
U — Jarnagin 5 run (pass failed) 7:00
U — Langston 44 pass to Simpson (run failed) 5:17
U — Morales 1 run (Sanchez kick) 7:47
P — Seidel 4 run (Verbera kick) 4:10
First downs 7 20
Rushes-yards 28-112 58-288
Passing yards 54 130
Passes 5-6-0 5-8-0
Fumbles-lost 3-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 2-15 5-45
Punts-avg. 6-28 1-39
T.O.P. 15:06 32:03
RUSHING — Pratt: Seidel 3-53, Siroky 10-24, Gilmore 8-15, Dean 7-10; Ulysses: Jarnagin 24-150, Sandoval 14-57, Morales 10-34, Langston 5-17.
PASSING — Pratt: BJ Dean 4-5-0 10, S. Dean 1-1-0 44; Ulysses: Langston 5-8-0 116, Newell 1-1-0 14.
RECEIVING — Pratt: BJ Dean 1-44; Ulysses: Zirkle 3-29, Simpson 2-58, Newell 1-21.