Holcomb’s final district game easily could have been a trap game on the road, but the state’s second-ranked team in Class 4A-II pulled of a 33-14 win at Hugoton.
The win gave Holcomb its seventh straight, and they improved to 3-0 in district, already having wrapped up a home game next week in the first round of the postseason. A week ago, the Longhorns secured the top spot with a win over previously unbeaten Pratt. Holcomb will host Colby, the runner-up in District 7, in the first round of the playoffs Friday.
Hugoton, meanwhile, had lost to Kingman, eliminating the Eagles from playoff contention.
Almost from the start, it was the ‘Horns in control of both sides of the ball.
Holcomb scored on its first possession, traveling 69 yards on eight plays, capped by Kaden Tichenor’s one-yard run. On Holcomb’s first possession of the second period, Trey Gilbert hit Chance Rodriguez for a 23-yard strike to take a 13-0 lead.
Lady Luck struck after Gilbert threw an interception midway into the second. Caeden Spencer scooped up a fumble after a pass, and ran it back 25 yards for Holcomb’s third score.
And on a one-play possession with 44 seconds left in the half, Gilbert found Peyton Leonard wide open for a 63-yard play and a 27-0 lead at the break. By halftime, Holcomb had out-gained the Eagles 295 yards to 59, and had nine first downs to just two for Hugoton.
The teams traded touchdowns in the third. After a Holcomb fumble, Hugoton set up at the ‘Horns eight-yard line and Dawson Kerbow took it in from four yards three plays later.
Holcomb, starting at its own 17 on the ensuing series, drove the field and Reece Morss scored from a yard out to give the ‘Horns a 33-7 lead.
A four-yard pass from Manny Mendoza to Austin Dale cut Holcomb’s lead to 33-14, the final score.
Holcomb finished with 369 total yards and held the Eagles to just 172, with Kerbow finishing with 135 yards on 25 carries.
Tichenor led the ‘Horns with 88 yards on just 12 carries and Morss 45 on 11 carries as Holcomb rested most of its starters in the final quarter.
Gilbert connected on seven passes for 175 yards and the two scoring strikes. All of his completions were in the first half.
Holcomb was playing without Andrew Morss and Carter Blackburn, both nursing injuries but who should be back for Friday’s playoff game.
Holcomb coach Kent Teeter was happy with the warm-up to the playoffs, though he knows they have some work to do.
“We wanted to attack outside and we were able to do that, and that set up some other things,” he said. “And then we knew we could throw on them some, but we also knew it was going to be a little bit cold and windy, so we did want that running attack to be there. I thought we executed fairly well most times.”
Holcomb’s defense has given up just four touchdowns in the last five games, two to Kerbow, whom Teeter said would be a key in this game. Much of his yardage came in the second half, after being limited in the first.
“We knew we shut him down pretty much the whole first half, so that was really big,” he said. “With our defense, we’ve got some speed. We’ve got kids who just play hard. Our defense has played lights out all year long.”
Teeter was also pleased getting in a number of younger players for a large number of plays.
“That just shows you we’ve got a lot of depth and made them earn the yards they got,” he said. “It’s huge when you can get those young guys some experience.”
Holcomb has made it to at least the semifinals the previous three seasons, including a state title two years ago. Teeter said his team is playing with that same goal this year, enjoying the “second season” once again.
“District play is all about being in the top two. Winning it gives you a first round home playoff game, which is huge,” he said. “We’re in a great position, but we need to do something with it.”