By BRETT MARSHALL
HUGOTON — The Hugoton Eagles had not won a football playoff game in a quarter century.
That 25-year drought came to an end Tuesday as the Eagles dominated Clearwater 35-12 to capture the Class 4A bi-district playoff win and earn a spot in the regional playoff on Saturday at Buhler, who beat Colby 65-19.
As it has been the case all season, Hugoton's rushing attack and stifling defense carried them to victory.
"We've got 11 guys out there who fly to the ball and our line does a great job of keeping the defenders off us," said senior running back Caleb Gifford, who led the Eagles' ground attack with 227 yards on 31 carries. "We got the big play when we needed it and our defense just doesn't want anybody to run on it."
Hugoton's defense was just as impressive through the first three and a half quarters, limiting the Indians to just 71 rushing yards on 38 attempts.
"I thought we keyed on their run game very well," Hugoton coach Clint Merritt said. "(Clearwater) got a couple of big pass plays on us and we'd liked to have finished better."
Hugoton led 6-0 after one quarter on Gifford's 5-yard run and upped the advantage to 18-0 at halftime when Keithan Martin scored from eight yards out and then caught a 12-yard pass from Zach Dunlap with just 1:31 left before intermission.
Hiram Urquidez provided the only points in the third quarter when the Hugoton placekicker booted a 28-yard field goal midway through to make it 21-0.
Hugoton continued to roll in the fourth quarter when quarterback Zach Dunlap found Colton Ghumm on a swing pass that ended in a 68-yard scoring play, then Dunlap tacked on a 1-yard run with 6:15 to make it 35-0.
"We had third and 10 and we knew we wanted to try a short completion and see if we could get a first down," Merritt said. "We ran a jump route and Zach got it over the first defender. It was great recognition by Zach and Colton. It was a huge play."
Clearwater (3-7) managed two scores in the final four minutes to keep from being shut out. Dillon Ward picked up a fumbled handoff and raced 32 yards for one Indians' score and Dylan Spencer took a short pass from Alex Baughman and lunged into the end zone from four yards out. That was set up by a 58-yard completion from Baughman to Jarred Nickelson two plays earlier.
The Eagles finished the game with 402 yards rushing. Martin ran for 96 yards in 13 carries and Dunlap added 79 yards on just 10 attempts. The only down side for Hugoton was the Eagles' four fumbles.
"We've not had one of these (playoff win) for a long time and I told the kids that in spite of the fact we didn't finish this game off the way we'd like, we still won a big game," Merritt said. "We'll regroup and get ourselves ready for Saturday and just see what happens. These kids have a lot of heart and I know they'll be as ready as they can be."
Clearwater managed just 39 yards in offense in the first half, but did finish with 191 total (71 rushing, 120 passing). Two pass completions accounted for 93, as Baughman was just 6-of-18 with one interception. Dunlap attempted just four passes, completing two for 82 yards.
With Buhler (9-1) next, the task will be to stop the Crusaders' high-powered offense. And nobody knows that better than Merritt.
"Buhler's the type of team that we'll have to be at our best," he said. "Buhler's good enough that if we make the kinds of mistakes we've made in the last two games (11 fumbles, nine lost) that they will capitalize on them. The kids have earned the right to be here. We'll just go on the road and see what happens."
Clearwater 0 0 0 12 — 12
Hugoton 6 12 3 14 — 35
H — Caleb Gifford 5 run (kick failed)
H — Keithan Martin 8 run (run failed)
H — Keithan Martin 12 pass from Zach Dunlap (run failed)
H — Hiram Urquidez 28 field goal
H — Colton Ghumm 68 pass from Zach Dunlap (Hiram Urquidez kick)
H — Zach Dunlap 1 run (Urquidez kick)
C — Dillon Ward 32 fumble return (pass failed)
C — Dylan Spencer 5 pass from Alex Baughman (run failed)
Clearwater-Hugoton Team Stats
First Downs 10 19
Rushes-Yards 38-71 54-402
Passing Yards 120 82
Passes (C-A-I) 6-18-1 2-4-0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 5-4
Penalties-Yards 4-33 7-75
Punts-Avg. 6-36.0 0-0
Rushing — Clearwater: Baughman 11-(-12), Nickelson 7-24, Dunnegan 11-32, Dickerson 4-15, Frickey 1-3, Spencer 2-10. Hugoton: Dunlap 7-81, Martin 13-90, Gifford 32-214.
Passing — Clearwater: Baughman 5-17-1--115. Hugoton: Dunlap 2-4-0--80.
Receiving — Clearwater: Spencer 2-52, May 1-6, Dickerson 1-(-1), Nickelson 1-58. Hugoton: Martin 1-12, Ghumm 1-68.