HOLCOMB — It had all the earmarks of being one of the great football games in southwest Kansas in recent years.
That’s what everybody anticipated when the No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Scott City Beavers traveled the short distance to face the No. 2-ranked Holcomb Longhorns in Friday night’s Class 4A-II state semifinal.
But from the game’s first play from scrimmage, when Peyton Leonard intercepted a Parker Gooden pass and returned it 24 yards for a pick-6, to a nail-in-the-coffin third-quarter opening drive for a TD, the rematch of these two Great West Activities Conference powerhouses was one-sided much of the night.
The result was a 34-13 win for the Longhorns that advanced them to their second 4A-II state title game in three seasons, in which they will face surprising Frontenac, a 37-21 winner over Topeka-Hayden in the east semifinal, at 1 p.m. Nov. 25 in Salina.
Scott City’s bid for a berth in the state title game for the first time since 2014 (Class 3A runner-up) saw the Beavers' unbeaten season come to a crashing end at 11-1. Holcomb, meanwhile, will take its own 11-1 mark into next week’s title game.
“Never in my wildest dreams could I have anticipated the start to the game,” Holcomb coach Kent Teeter said afterward. “We’ve been playing really well lately, but when you face a team the caliber of Scott City, you just don’t know if your best is gonna be good enough.”
In this case, the Longhorns were razor sharp.
After Leonard’s quick pick-6 put the ‘Horns up 7-0 just 45 seconds into the game, Scott City responded with a touchdown drive on its third possession, scoring on a 1-yard plunge by sophomore quarterback Parker Gooden.
But the Beavers’ PAT kick was wide right, leaving Holcomb up 7-6 at the 6:53 mark.
Holcomb’s lone turnover followed on a fumble, but Scott City couldn’t take advantage, and this time, it was Reece Morss who picked off Gooden and dashed 20 yards into the end zone. A muffed PAT kick by the Longhorns left them up 13-6 with 4:04 still to go in the opening stanza.
While the Beavers couldn’t find its offensive momentum in the second quarter (one punt, one fumble and a drive ending on an incompletion), the Longhorns steadied their offensive ship and scored twice.
The first came on a pass from Trey Gilbert (9-of-15 for 150 yards, no picks) to senior sidekick Chance Rodriguez (four catches, 103 yards) on a post for the 40-yard TD strike. Rodriguez’ PAT kick made it 20-6 with 7:14 left before halftime.
“We’ve been playing together since grade school, and we just seem to know what the other is going to do,” Gilbert said. “The defense came up big tonight with the two pick-6s, and that made my job so much easier. I could just go out and play relaxed.”
Rodriguez, who also came up with a number of big defensive plays, said the goal was to stop the Beavers’ potent running game (246-yard per game running attack was limited to 60 yards on 32 carries).
“We knew they did a lot of play-action passes and would try to throw over us, but the key was our defensive line. They did a great job of controlling their inside runs, and that made the rest of it easier for us," Gilbert said.
Scott City’s next drive was snuffed out when Damon Kepley recovered a Gooden fumble. Nine plays and 54 yards later, Kaden Tichenor ran it in from 6 yards out and Rodriguez’s kick left the ‘Horns in the driver’s seat at 27-6 with 2:26 to play before the break.
“We knew that we couldn’t let up at halftime,” Gilbert said.
That’s because this Scott City had thrived on being the comeback kids, rallying three times during the season, including a Week 2 comeback against these same Longhorns after trailing 14-0.
“We knew there was no quit in them,” Rodriguez said of the Beavers. “They’ve done this quite a bit, so we knew we had to keep the pedal to the metal.”
If there were any hopes for another Beaver rally, it went out the window on the first series of the third quarter when the Longhorns took the kickoff and promptly marched 80 yards in nine plays to sock this one away.
The big play of the drive? A 26-yard scramble pass from Gilbert to — who else? — Rodriguez to keep the drive alive from their own 25. Six plays later, Reece Morss bulled his way in from the 1-yard line and Rodriguez booted the final point of the night, making 34-6 with 8:12 left in the third.
“We knew they were capable of a comeback, so I thought the score right out of the box in the third quarter was big,” Teeter said.
It proved to be bigger after Scott City had a touchdown called back late in the third on a holding penalty at the 1-yard line. On the next play, a fourth down, Gooden’s pass fell incomplete after being hurried by AJ Ortega.
The Beavers did salvage a little at the end, marching 73 yards in 12 plays, with Gooden finding Marshall Faurot (nine catches, 114 yards) on a 6-yard out pattern for a TD. But there was just 2:03 left in the game, and it was too little, too late.
Scott City’s Jarret Jurgens, one of the two Beavers’ tandem running backs and linebacker, said that digging a hole for themselves was just too much to overcome.
“The turnovers right off the start just killed the momentum we felt we had to begin the game,” Jurgens said. “This happens. The pick-6, especially two of them, were killers.”
Jurgens said the Beavers had hoped to stop the Holcomb inside running game to then focus on the pass, but that, too, didn’t work out.
“This time, they just spread us out a little more than the first game,” Jurgens said. “A lot of little things added up, too — penalties, missed blocking assignments. We just didn’t execute. Stuff like this happens sometimes.”
Jurgens, though, said he and his teammates never quit competing.
“There’s no quit in us,” Jurgens said. “We just got beat by a team that played better than us. A play here, a play there, and it’s a much closer game.”
Scott City head coach Jim Turner declined a post-game interview on the field after the game concluded.
The Beavers’ ground game was limited to 60 yards on 32 carries, but some of that was clouded by Gooden’s minus-35 yards on eight carries, several of those resulting from sacks. The sophomore, who had guided the Scott City offense all season, had a tough night, going 15-of-33 for 217 yards, but suffered three picks.
Holcomb, meanwhile, continued its offensive balance with 160 rushing yards (Morss 103 yards, 11 carries) and 150 yards passing.
Note: The semifinal contest for the Longhorns was the fourth in a row, with wins in 2015 and 2017 over Andale and now Scott City, while suffering setbacks in 2014 (Andale) and 2016 (Pratt). Those two teams went on to win state titles.