by KEVIN THOMPSON
HOLCOMB — Opportunity knocked, and it knocked often for Ulysses. And the Tigers were more than happy to open the door.
The Tigers rode an explosion of four first-quarter touchdowns on their way to a 54-28 win over Holcomb in the opening-round of 4A District 14 action Friday night.
Ulysses took advantage of three Longhorn turnovers in the opening quarter, scoring on all of them.
On the opening drive, the Tigers recovered a fumble at Holcomb's 17. Armando Sandoval ran the next seven plays for short yards to get the first score.
After another fumble on Holcolmb's second drive, Chase Newel ran 21 yards on the second play for the second score.
On their third possession, Ulysses' Braden Langston eluded tacklers, rolled left and hit Josh Jarnagin on a perfect strike up the left side for a 41-yard score.
After a Tiger interception by Razzy Morales, Langston used a tipped pass to Tate Annis for a 48-yard score.
Just like that, it was 26-0.
Holcomb got a lift from J. Estrada's 95-yard touchdown run on the ensuing kickoff, but the damage had already been wrought.
Sandoval scored twice more to open the next two quarters and Newel added another in the third. Ronnie Degollado added the final touch in the fourth.
Once again, it was the speed of the Tigers that propelled them to victory.
"Our offense is pretty explosive," Ulysses coach Jason Kenny said. "I thought we blocked really well up front tonight, and our backs ran it well."
That formula worked early. The Tigers ran for 96 first-quarter yards. Add Langston's two completions for 86 yards.
That was only on the offensive side. Kenny said the defensive goal was to stop Holcomb's effective running game, and the Tigers did, holding the Longhorns to just six yards on six carries in the pivotal opening quarter.
Jarnagin said the first-quarter push was the key. It's also indicative of the style of play the Tigers are known for.
"We need to get up on them big, keep trucking and keep going," he said. "They're small and fast. But we're fast. We're just more physical up on the line. That's what we needed to be for this game."
Ulysses amassed 566 yards, 410 of those came on the ground.
For Holcomb quarterback Tyler LaSalle, he was able to evade a coule potential tacklers and scramble for time, hitting Estrada for a 13-yard strike in the second quaerter and Andrew Homer for a 12-yard play in the third.
On that possession, Holcomb got drive-sustaining penalties twice on fourth downs, moving the ball 19 yards without completing a pass until the strike to Homer over the top.
LaSalle finished the night with 204 passing yards.
Those were some of the only bright spots for Holcomb.
LaSalle threw three interceptions, the Longhorns lost two fumbles, and they rushed for right around 80 yards.
For the Longhorns, it came down to poor execution in the opening quarter, probably caused by a "wow factor" of having to play Ulysses, the No. 5-ranked team in 4A.
"We had too many turnovers," said coach Jerry Johnson. "We got beat by the name on their chests that first quarter. We were too scared by the Ulysses name."
It wasn't like it was going to be an easy game, by any means, Johnson said.
"Did we know it was going to be tough to try to stop them? Yeah," he said, "They're a good team. They're tough. We played too nervous early."
Both teams now have to move forward in district play.
For Ulysses, the 27-13 loss to Scott City a week ago acted as a wake-up call, Jarnagin said.
"That boosted our confidence, to have a game like that," he said. "It brought us together more as a team."
Kenny said the Tigers (6-1) are now where they wanted to be after district game one. They face Larned next week sitting in the driver's seat.
Though 0-1 in the district, Holcomb (5-2) still has two more games to play.
"It hurts, Johnson said. Any time you invest this much into the season, it's going to hurt. But now we have to regroup because next week is do-or-die.
The Longhorns travel to Hugoton, a team they've lost to the past two seasons but plays the same brand of football.
With Holcomb s only two losses to the No. 1-team in 3A (Scott City) and now to Ulysses, Johnson said his team has nothing to be ashamed of.
"If we can regroup and beat them, we can still make the playoffs," he said. "We can still finish off the season the way we want to."
Ulysses 54, Holcomb 28
Ulysses 26 8 14 6 -- 54
Holcomb 6 8 6 8 -- 28
U--Sandoval 1 run (kick failed), 9:20
U--Newel 21 run (run failed), 7:5
U--Jarnagin 41 pass from Langston (Sandoval run) 4:14
U--Annis 48 pass from Langston (run failed), 1:29
H--Estrada 95 kickoff retrun (pass failed), 1:15
U--Sandoval 27 run (Langston to Sandoval), 11:14
H--Tucker 13 pass from LaSalle (LaSalle to Gilbert), 4:48
U--Sandoval 6 run (PAT failed), 10:02
U--Newel 20 pass from Langston (Langston to Newell), 6:26
H--Homer 13 pass from LaSalle (pass failed), :54
U--Degollado 9 run (pass failed), 6:34
H--Roth 22 run (Richmeier run), 2:44
Rushes-yds 55-410 23-79
Passes-yds 5-14-156 14-29-204
Total yds 566 283
Turnovers 1 5
First downs 22 14
RUSHING--Ulysses: Sandoval 23-158, Jarnagin 12-99, Morales 6-50, Newel 3-27; Holcomb: LaSalle 12-56, Roth 1-22, Munoz 4-13, Gilbert 1-6.
PASSING--Ulysses: Langston 5-14-0-156; Holcomb: LaSalle 14-29-3-204.
RECEIVING--Ulysses: Jarnagin 2-78, Annis 1-48, Newel 1-20, Stringham 1-10; Holcomb: Homer 5-62, Cox 3-48, Gilbert 2-41, Tucker 2-18, Estrada 1-13.