ULYSSES — The Holcomb Longhorns found themselves in an unusual position to open the season, namely in scoring points.
In the first two games, they managed just 29 combined points, an aberration from the first three seasons under coach Kent Teeter.
Ulysses, as well, had scored just 25 points in two games.
After a low-scoring first half Friday night in Ulysses, it was Holcomb that found its legs in the second half, as the Longhorns cruised to a 35-8 win over Ulysses.
The ‘Horns scored on four straight possessions in the final 14-plus minutes to put the game away, with quarterback Trey Gilbert hooking up with three different receivers accounting for all five of his team’s scores.
“We felt tonight was going to be a breakout game, and when it didn’t happen the first half, we (coaches) said what we thought we needed to do,” he said. “Finally, in the second half, it just shows that we got the momentum and the confidence. Now, I think we’re starting to find our identity.”
Holcomb (2-1) got on the board first with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 5-and-a-half minutes. Trey Gilbert rolled out right and hit Carter Blackburn from three yards out in the corner of the end zone.
Ulysses (0-3) responded on its first drive, starting at its own 33 and taking 19 plays before quarterback Zac Anderson took it in from two yards out, completing the two-point conversion with a pass to Sloan Hayden for an 8-7 lead, which held up at halftime.
Holcomb sustained an opening drive in the third period, only to have Andrew Nagel knock down a 4th-and-goal pass at the goal line.
But from then on, the Holcomb offense took off.
The defense forced Ulysses to punt on the next series, and starting at the Tigers’ 36, the Longhorns needed just two plays, sandwiched around a face mask penalty, to strike.
Gilbert found a wide-open Chance Rodriguez in the end zone for the score, and the two connected again for the two-point conversion, with Holcomb taking a 15-8 lead late in the third.
Apparently, that dredged up the ‘Horns of old as they scored again — and often.
The first was an eight-play drive, ending in a 20-yard strike to Blackburn. On the next series, it was a one-play shot downfield to a wide-open Peyton Leonard for a 41-yard score and a 29-8 Holcomb lead.
And on the next series, it was Rodriguez once more, this time a 15-yard catch from Gilbert and a 35-8 lead.
After just 103 totals yards in the first half, Holcomb racked up 234 more in the second, out-gaining the Tigers 322-120 overall.
Holcomb's team speed, which features some state track meet-qualifying athletes, finally showed up, Teeter said.
“I told them, 'Guys, just let it go,'” he explained. “We’re thinking too much.”
Once his speedsters went with instincts, they were off and running. The average scoring strike in the second half was more than 25 yards.
Gilbert, too, seemed to hit his stride, especially with sub-par games previously.
“At Scott City (last week), he didn’t throw the ball with action, but tonight he didn’t miss very many,” Teeter said. “He threw the ball extremely well, and he can do that. It didn’t surprise me at all that he got on track.”
On the other side, Ulysses coach Jason Kenny saw his team put together a good first half but get outplayed in the second.
“We played a good half tonight, but the game’s four quarters,” he said. “Holcomb’s a good team, and I felt defensively we played well for two-and-a-half quarters.”
Offensively, though, the Tigers need to put more drives together. Other than the opening drive of 19 plays, the longest the Tigers had the rest of the night was eight plays, and six times it was five plays or fewer.
“I thought we got better from last week to this week, honestly,” Kenny said. “That’s all you can ask for. We just have to keep working hard and getting better — and having a good attitude. We’ll keep battling.”
Ulysses (0-3) travels to Colby and Holcomb (2-1) hosts Goodland.