By BRETT MARSHALL
HOLTON — Prior to Saturday night's Class 4A sectional football playoff game against Holton, Ulysses coach Jason Kenny talked about his game plan to stop the high-powered wishbone offense of the Wildcats.
Plan A was to angle his defensive ends and linebackers in, to keep the running backs from getting to the line of scrimmage. Plan B was to put nine or 10 players at the line of scrimmage in hopes of stopping the ground game of the Wildcats.
Plan C was to revert back to their basic defense and see if it would work.
For most of the night, none of the plans did what Kenny had hoped and the result was a 42-20 loss, thus ending the Tigers season-ending run two games shy of the state championship game.
"We didn't work the script and you can't do that against a good team," Kenny said. "They're big, they're quick, they're strong. They're very good at what they do. We just made too many mistakes early and our backs were against the wall."
It did not take the Wildcats and coach Brooks Barta long to establish the dominance along the interior line on both offense and defense as two possessions at the start the game resulted in touchdowns and a 13-0 Wildcat lead.
The first drive was a nine play, 64 yard drive that was capped off by a rare pass, a 22-yarder from Bryce Barnett to Loren McDaniel.
Ulysses' first possession was a quick 3-and-out.
Twelve plays and 66 yards later, the Wildcats were back in the UHS end zone, with Rob Reiderer finishing off the drive with a 2-yard run.
"It was better than we've been playing all season," Barta said of his team's performance. "We have played well defensively and on special teams and they were really big for us tonight. Ulysses is tough and quick, but I thought we executed much better than we have in recent weeks."
Things got worse in a hurry for the Tigers as Holton blocked a Braden Langston punt and recovered it deep in Ulysses territory.
The Tigers fought galliantly at their goal line but Gunner McKenna — who had 202 yards rushing on 23 carries for the night — scored on fourth down from the 1-yard line, making the score 20-0 just five seconds before the end of the first quarter.
"They were big, quick and very good," said Ulysses running back Josh Jarnagin, who was limited to 45 yards on 18 carries. "We just couldn't get anything established and dug a deep hole early. You can't come out flat in a game like this and we were a little flat at the start."
The Wildcats' coach, Barta — son of legendary Smith Center coach Roger Barta — won his 150th game in 15 seasons and for the most part made it look relatively easy after erupting for 20 points in the first quarter.
Holton added another touchdown just 25 seconds before halftime on a 1-yard dive by McKenna to make it 27-0 at the break and for all practical purposes the game was decided.
The Tigers, who finish the season 9-3, did come out at the start of the third quarter with Jarnagin returning the kick 96 yards and seemingly reigniting the Tigers. The only problem, though, was one of the officials apparently blew an inadvertent whistle, negating the play.
After a several minute discussion, the referee had a re-kick by Holton. It was a re-kick by choice since the other option given to Kenny was to take the ball where the whistle was blown.
"He just said it was inadvertent and there's nothing that could be done about it," Kenny said. "It took a bit of momentum away from us but I was proud of the way our kids fought the entire game."
Ulysses did score on that first possession of the third quarter, but it took nearly five minutes as they drove 79 yards in 12 plays with Armando Sandoval scoring a touchdown on an 8-yard run.
"When you're down that far, minutes are precious and that one really hurt," Kenny said of the negated kickoff return.
Once again, Holton had an answer.
This time, it was a five play, 70-yard drive capped off by a 7-yard pass from Barnett to Adam Luthi. Holton, now 10-2, capped off its scoring with a 2-yard dive by Brentt Donaldson midway through the fourth quarter, making the score 42-7.
Two late scores by the Tigers took a little sting out of the loss. Gerrardo Porras scored one TD when he picked up a fumble by Holton reserve quarterback Jaxton Wright, who was hit by Jered Neidert at the 5-yard line.
Holton fumbled on its next possession and in two plays, the Tigers were in the end zone when Langston scrambled around the left end for a 7-yard TD run with just under two minutes remaining in the game.
The Tigers managed just 109 rushing yards while the wishbone of Holton racked up 359 yards on 62 attempts.
Ulysses finished the night passing for 68 yards on 5-of-17 attempts. The Wildcats were 2-of-3 passing, both of which were completed for scores. The Wildcats have 11 TD passes in 15 completions this season.
Holton has claimed 4A state titles in 2003 and 2005, with the latter coming in a 28-27 overtime thriller against these same Ulysses Tigers. And while the result was the same this time around, Kenny said this Holton team was far superior.
Holton advances to the state semifinals next Friday to play at unbeaten Buhler, a 21-0 winner on Friday night over Topeka-Hayden.
See game stats in Scoreboard, Page B2.