By BRETT MARSHALL
HOLCOMB — A year's difference of playing the Beloit Trojans in the second round of the Class 3A football playoffs didn't produce a different outcome for the Holcomb Longhorns.
Yes, they lost the Saturday night home game by a 57-30 margin, but it was far from the smooth sailing of the 60-8 rout by the Trojans in 2012.
And that's about all Holcomb coach Jerry Johnson and his big playmaker, senior Heath Tucker, could have asked for.
Beloit, the state's No. 1-ranked team in the class and now unbeaten in 11 games, looked every bit as explosive and dominant as it had a year ago when the Trojans took the opening kickoff, drove 68 yards in 14 plays, all on the ground. Peyton Vetter's 3-yard run and his keeper for the 2-point conversion made it 8-0 at the midpoint of the opening quarter.
And when Tucker fumbled the ball away near midfield on the Longhorns' first possession and Vetter picked it up and raced untouched 52 yards for a TD, followed by Tanner Niemczyk's 2-point run, it was 16-0 Beloit with 4:36 left in the first. And the rout appeared to be on.
"We knew coming in, we'd have to play a perfect game and we didn't do that," Johnson said afterward. "Beloit's just too good a team and you just can't trade off with them. And you can't give them easy scores."
But the Longhorns hung tough after that, getting a pair of TDs from Tucker. The first came late in the opening period on a 1-yard dive and the second came midway through the second quarter on a 35-yard option keeper where he made a nifty cut back into the center of the field and raced untouched. Two Juan Guerrero PAT kicks trimmed the deficit to 16-14 and the 'Horns appeared to have all the momentum.
Then came the play of the game, at least from the perspective of Beloit coach Greg Koenig.
Tucker, who was trying a pooch kick to avoid getting it in the hands of Beloit return specialist Bowe Behymer, instead kicked it too high. Behymer grabbed it on his own 8-yard line, worked his way up the middle of the field, broke a tackle at the 30 and then scooted to the outside and went the distance for a 92-yard score. Even though the Trojans' try for two on a pass failed, Beloit had just as quickly regained the big 'mo.'
"I shouldn't have kicked it to him," bemoaned Tucker after the game. "We had worked on that all week. We knew he was a good returner. Just made a bad mistake. You know it might have been a better game had we not made the mistakes, but Beloit's the best team I've seen."
Over the next 7 minutes, 41 seconds, the Trojans put the game out of reach and all that was left to be determined was the margin.
The Longhorns went on a 3-and-out on their next possession, followed by a 14-yard Tucker punt. Five plays and 53 yards later, Behymer hauled in a pass from Vetter and Vetter tacked on the PAT run for a 30-14 lead at the 3:33 mark.
An onside kick by Beloit was muffed by the Longhorns, and the Trojans were set up for a short field for their next score. This one took just four plays, capped off by RJ Jackson's 2-yard plunge. Behymer had the big play of the drive, a 34-yard scamper that set up Jackson's short score.
Another 3-and-out and another short Tucker punt put Beloit back on the offensive at the Holcomb 48. Nine plays later Beloit was on the Holcomb 9-yard line and time was running out. On the final play of the half, with the clock running out, Vetter booted a 27-yard field goal, making it 41-14 at the break.
Tucker said that despite the lopsided score, the Longhorns' season was successful, reaching the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year. They finished the season with a 7-4 record.
"A lot of people doubted us this season because we lost so many seniors (13) a year ago," Tucker said. "I think we worked hard, and I consider it to be a successful season."
Highlighting the season was a 21-20 win over Class 2A power Meade in the opening week. The Longhorns had Scott City on the ropes, but lost 31-28 on a last-second field goal earlier in the schedule.
For Johnson, the game was about competing and playing hard to the final seconds of the game.
"We knew it would be a tough battle," Johnson said. "They're the better team. They knew it. We knew it. It would take a perfect game for us to have a chance. The turnovers, the miscues, were costly. We wanted to have long drives, milk the clock and keep the ball away from them.
"We were able to do a lot of the things we wanted, but just couldn't really ever stop them."
In an unusual third quarter, each team had one possession and each team scored.
Holcomb took the second-half kickoff and went 62 yards in seven plays with Tucker hitting Dalton Gottschalk on a 10-yard TD pass and then finding Trey Sleep on the 2-point conversion.
The Trojans answered with a colossal 16-play, 73-yard drive that took up nearly the rest of the quarter, getting the score with just 31 seconds remaining when Vetter dove in from the 1-yard line.
The teams traded scores in the fourth quarter, with Jackson scoring on a 1-yard dive and Holcomb getting a 6-yard pass from Tucker to Trey Sleep with 2:16 left in the game.
The Trojans rolled up 326 yards rushing on 62 attempts (Behymer 136 yards, 25 carries and Tanner Niemczyk 98 yards on 18 carries) and had 75 yards passing as Vetter was 4-of-8. Beloit had no turnovers. Tucker led Holcomb with 108 yards on 17 carries, and the Longhorns finished with 241 yards of offense (194 rushing, 47 passing). Blake Richmeier had 14 carries for 61 yards.
Beloit advances to the quarterfinals and will play a 7 p.m. Friday game at home against Sedgwick, a 35-0 winner over Marion.