By KEVIN THOMPSON
HOLCOMB — The Longhorns got a 34-14 win over Cimarron Thursday night, but it wasn't as easy as it sounds.
After appearing to be in the driver's seat in the first half, Holcomb had to rely on its defense to withstand a late first-half Bluejay charge that never transferred to the second half.
With the win, Holcomb won the district title and the right to host a playoff game next week.
Things looked easy for the Longhorns early, but became shaky later.
They struck first with a short Tyler LaSalle pitch pass to Aaron Hernandez.
In the second period, Blake Richmeier ran 6 yards up the middle for a second score.
And LaSalle thrilled the crowd with an 81-yard pass play to Jeremy Cox, who got behind his defender at midfield for an over-the-shoulder catch and subsequent 50-yard sprint.
After taking the 21-0 lead, though, things went awry in a big way for the Longhorns.
Cimarron's Ty Clark, held to just 15 first-quarter yards, took a kickoff return 81 yards for a quick score.
Huge penalties against the Longhorns on their next series forced their first punt and the Bluejays strung together a 7-play, 60-yard drive, capped by an Alex Neuschafer 3-yard reception to cut the gap to 21-14.
And just before the half, Holcomb squandered a scoring chance with a fumble at the Jays' 5-yard line.
Though Holcomb outgained the Bluejays 245 yards to 81 in that first half, the momentum and close score seemed to favor the visitors.
Then the Longhorns failed to convert a 15-play drive to start the half.
But Cimarron drives grounded to a halt often as Holcomb's defense came up big the rest of the night.
And eventually the Holcomb offense found its footing.
LaSalle, after passing the 1000-yard rushing mark for the season, took the next two runs 25 and 22 yards to score.
Tate Mason's late interception return for a score put the game out of reach.
And though Holcomb had 431 yards of offense, it was the defense holding Cimarron to just 111 yards — half its season average — that won this game.
A good win, but not pretty.
"Really, the defense came up big all night long. Our offense put our defense in tough positions all night," Holcomb coach Jerry Johnson said.
Johnson said he never felt they were ever in a difficult situation, as long as the offense didn't lose the game, but a couple of fumbles and an interception were concerning.
Cimarron coach Doug Minneman saw his team do a lot right, but they were their own worst enemies.
"We just shot ourselves in the foot," he said. "And we struggled offensively in the second half."
Walker got banged up late in the first half, limiting the running game the next half. The Jays had to rely on the passing game too much, though AJ Cooper was 8-of-11 on the night.
The first half was one of survival, Minneman said, and he thought they could use the momentum in the second half. But Holcomb's defense was just too tough.
For Holcomb, season-ending injuries to Heath Tucker and Corey Roth forced players to step into new roles, Johnson said, and this game was a learning session for many players.
"Kids are trying to find their spots. They've been used to thinking someone would come back to take their spots, but now they've got to be the man," he said. "So I think we played a little nervous tonight on offense, but it was good because there are a lot of teaching moments we can work on."
Lasalle's 144 yards on 29 carries gives him 1053 for the season, and his 214 passing yards puts him just shy of 1500.
Consistency on both sides of the ball will be key as Holcomb (8-1, 3-0) hosts Hoisington on Tuesday, a big and physical opponent, Johnson said.
"They're physical like a Scott City or Ulysses," he said. "We've got to try to play the ball to the edge and shore up our pass protections. We were just a half step slow all night long."
Cimarron (7-2, 2-1) will face Scott City, ranked second in state, and it will be tough, Minneman said.
"It's a matter of executing all night long," he said. "And we've got some speed, but they have speed all over."
Cimarron 0 14 0 0 -- 14
Holcomb 7 14 0 13 -- 34
H--LaSalle 5 pass to Hernandez (Guerrero kick) 4:57
H--Richmeier 6 run (Guerrero kick) 8:21
H--LaSalle 81 pass to Cox (Guerrero kick) 4:53
C--Clark 81 kickoff return (Fischer kick) 4:39
C--Neuschafer 3 run (Fischer kick) :52
H--LaSalle 22 run 9:32
H--Tate 20 int. return (kick failed) :52
First downs 17 7
Rushing yds 214 21
Passing yds 217 90
Total yds 431 111
Att-comp 12-18 8-11
Punts 2 4
Fumbles-lost 3-2 2-0
Penalties-yds 7-60 5-35
RUSHING--Cimarron: Walker 11-21; Holcomb: LaSalle 29-144, Hernandez 13-52.
PASSING--Cimarron: Cooper 8-11-1-90; Holcomb: LaSalle 12-18-1.
RECEIVING--Cimarron: Walker 2-32, Neuschafer 2-28; Holcomb: Cox 7-156, Gilbert 3-50.