By LARRY MORITZ
Special to The Telegram
SALINA — The conditions were miserable. So was Ell-Saline’s start to Friday night’s Class 2-1A quarterfinal at Salina Stadium.
In the rain, wind and cold, the Cardinals trailed 30-0 at halftime and were down by 36 points after Stanton County scored on the opening possession of the third quarter. Although Ell-Saline did its best to make things interesting, the deficit was way too much to overcome, with the Cardinals ending their season with a 36-14 loss to the Trojans.
Stanton County (10-1) advances to next week’s 2-1A semifinal. After making two lengthy road trips in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Trojans will be at home to face Meade for the right to play in the 2-1A title game.
The Cardinals, who were 2-5 at one point this season, ended their year at 5-6.
“I’m proud of the kids’ effort,” said Ell-Saline coach Terry King. “Down 36-0 and they were still fighting. One more score and we might have put a big scare in those guys.”
The game was seemingly out of reach after Stanton County took the second-half kickoff and put together a seven-play scoring drive. A 1-yard touchdown run from Marques Logan put the Trojans up 36-0 only three minutes into the third quarter.
Ell-Saline had five first downs in the first half, but never more than one on any possession. That changed quickly in the second half, when the Cardinals went 58 yards on their opening possession to finally put points on the board.
Senior quarterback Tate Omli had four completions in the drive, including a 20-yarder to senior Juan Lorenzo Arceo for the touchdown. Arceo also had the two-point conversion catch to make it 36-8..
The Cardinals got the ball back quickly when defensive lineman Mason Unruh recovered a fumble at the Trojan 45-yard line. Omli had two completions to Arceo and eventually carried the ball into the end zone himself on a 5-yard run for the game’s final touchdown with 5:37 remaining in the third quarter.
“We put together a couple drives," King said. "As soon as we started throwing the ball, we got a spark and controlled the game.
"Football is a funny game and momentum is a big part of it."
Ell-Saline had three more possessions in the game and each ended with interceptions. The Cardinals twice drove inside the 10-yard line and had Omli passes picked off in the end zone. The final interception came inside the 10-yard line with 2:52 remaining in the game and the Trojans were able to run out the clock.
"Ell-Saline made some good adjustments at halftime and we had a hard time adjusting back," said Stanton County coach Bret Kendrick. "We bent a few times and broke twice, but we stayed strong.
"Give kudos to Ell-Saline's receivers, their quarterback and their entire team. They stayed to play."
"We played great defense after they scored at the start of the half," King said. "We played like we wanted to win, but you can't go down 30-0 like we did. We finally got a spark and that changed the whole game around. That was our problem all year — we would wait too long to get anything going."
The Cardinals had five turnovers in the game, including a lost fumble on the game's opening possession. Stanton County needed only one offensive play — a 33-yard touchdown run by Logan — to take a 6-0 lead.
The Trojans then scored on three consecutive possessions. Sophomore quarterback Quinn Kendrick had a 7-yard scoring run, then a 2-yard touchdown pass to Seth Holliday to make it 22-0. Austin Nairn, who had 119 of his 137 rushing yards in the first half, put his team up 30-0 with a 70-yard touchdown scamper shortly before halftime.
"We attacked in the first half and didn't let the cold bother us," coach Kendrick said.
"With the wind blowing we couldn't get our offense going the first quarter," King said. "I saw Tate throw a couple of passes and they were coming out weird. We tried to run the ball but couldn't do that.
"We decided to go with the spread and in the second quarter we started moving the ball. But our offense is not made for a rainy night like this."
Omli finished with 17 completions for 252 yards, including 220 yards in the second half. Arceo had nine of those receptions for 132 yards, with senior Zach Willis making four catches for 61 yards.
"We had a great senior class," King said. "The kids played through all kinds of adversity and we never did get totally healthy."
Stanton County had 362 yards rushing, led by Nairn and Quinn Kendrick, who had 20 carries for 113 yards.