By CONOR NICHOLL
Special to The Telegram
ELLIS — Stanton County junior Quinn Kendrick saw his team lose a 14-point lead and trail by six after Ellis scored with 2:11 left in Friday's Class 2-1A first round playoff game. But Kendrick believed the Trojans could rally on the road.
"We work on our two-minute drill every week," Kendrick said. "We get to where we are precise, and I wasn't worried. I knew we could do it. I knew this team has a lot of heart, and I knew we would be fine."
Stanton County mounted a 7-play, 53-yard drive and scored on a Kendrick 2-yard run on fourth down with 16 seconds left to tie the game. Then, senior Fabian Sierra kicked the game-winning extra point for a 35-34 victory. Ellis had one final chance, but junior Marques Logan intercepted Railroader senior quarterback Riley Hunsicker on the game's final play.
"I saw that we were short about two yards," Kendrick said. "I saw the linebackers were back about four yards. I knew we were quick enough to get those little two yards to score."
Stanton County moved to 9-1 overall and will face Plainville (9-1) next Friday in the second round. Plainville defeated Salina-Sacred Heart, 52-21.
Ellis, which had won five straight contests, saw its season end at 5-5. This year was a rematch of last fall's first round game, a contest Stanton County won 52-7. The 2011 version was much different than 2010.
"This was a great game," Stanton County coach Bret Kendrick said. "This was an absolute great game."
Stanton County took a 14-0 lead with 8:06 left in the first quarter. After Ellis botched an option pitch, Quinn Kendrick eventually picked up the loose ball and ran it in from 12 yards out.
"We needed that," Quinn Kendrick said. "We don't come out too strong on the road."
After a four-yard punt from Ellis, Stanton County tacked on another touchdown on a 45-yard halfback pass from Sierra to Kendrick. But Ellis, led by its spread offense and Hunsicker, rallied.
"We almost pulled off a big upset here, and I couldn't be prouder of the kids," Ellis coach Butch Hayes said. "Our kids have handled adversity well throughout the season. From an 0-4 start to turning it around and winning five games. These guys are going to battle every game. We were down (14-0) with some bad mistakes there early on, but we came right back."
Hunsicker, who had collected 2,563 yards of total offense during the regular season, finished 20-of-34 passing for 263 yards with four touchdowns against one interception. He also rushed 22 times for 73 yards and another TD. Hunsicker threw two touchdown passes of 70 and 19 yards to senior end Jared Herl in the first half. He tossed two more touchdowns in the second half of 41 and 3 yards.
"Their quarterback is good," Quinn Kendrick said. "He is a dual-threat quarterback. He has a great arm. We had linebackers having to guard receivers, which that hurt us a little bit, but we made some adjustments to that, so we could overcome that."
In the second half, Stanton County led 28-26 with less than five minutes to play. But Ellis senior Dylan Krause forced a fumble on a Kendrick rush. Ellis recovered at the Railer 20-yard line. Then, they marched 80 yards in seven plays and capped the drive on a 16-yard run from Hunsicker for the 34-28 lead.
On the game-winning drive, Stanton County eschewed the pass and went to run behind Kendrick and Logan. Logan finished with 21 carries for 122 yards, including 95 in the second half. Kendrick was 7-of-19 passing for 121 yards and a touchdown and rushed 12 times for 25 yards.
"The fourth quarter, really, we said we are just going to run it down your throat," Coach Kendrick said.
Sierra had a key 33-yard run down the left sideline that gave Stanton County a first down at the Ellis 11-yard line with 90 seconds left. The Trojans moved the ball to the three before Kendrick plowed forward for the game-tying score. Sierra's kick capped the thrilling contest.
"It was a do-or-die situation," Coach Kendrick said. "The kids pulled their bootstraps up and said, 'No, we are not going to die, we are playing tomorrow.'"
Stanton 14 0 14 7 -- 35
Ellis 0 12 14 8 -- 34
S — Kendrick 12 fumble recovery (Logan run)
S — Kendrick 45 pass from Sierra (run failed)
E — Herl 70 pass from Hunsicker (kick failed)
E — Herl 19 pass from Hunsicker (pass failed)
S — Holliday 65 kickoff return (Sierra run)
E — Lopez 41 pass from Hunsicker (Rodriguez kick)
E — Younger 3 pass from Hunsicker (Rodriguez kick)
S — Sierra 26 pass from Kendrick (pass failed)
E — Hunsicker 16 run (Lopez run)
S — Kendrick 3 run (Sierra kick)
First Downs 18 15
Rushes-Yds 42-158 26-48
Passing 11-21-0 20-34-1
Passing Yds 166 263
Total Yds 53-324 46-311
Penalties-Yds 7-61 5-50
Fumbles 3-3 3-2
Punts 0-0.0 1-4.0
RUSHING — Stanton County: Logan 21-122, Sierra 5-14, Kendrick 12-26, Gum 4-(-4); Ellis: Hunsicker 22-73, Younger 3-4, Team 1-(-29).
PASSING — Stanton County: Kendrick 10-19-0, 121 yards; Sierra 1-2-0, 45 yards; Ellis: Hunsicker 20-34-1, 263 yards.
RECEIVING — Stanton County: Sierra 4-58, Logan 4-32, Holliday 1-23, Molina 1-8; Ellis: Herl 6-111, Lopez 7-105, Younger 4-15, Mick 3-32.