By PAT SANGIMINO
Special to The Telegram
BUHLER — The Buhler Crusaders passed their first playoff test Tuesday and the best news of all is that senior running back Tanner Fisher never had to step onto the field.
Fisher, who last week became Buhler's all-time leading rusher, was slowed over the weekend by a staph infection in his right knee. It was swollen on Tuesday afternoon. He tried to loosen it before the game, but made the decision on his own he couldn't do it.
Not to worry. Sophomore Riley Allen proved himself a worthy understudy. In his first varsity start, he rushed 21 times for 153 yards and three touchdowns as the top-ranked Crusaders cruised to a 56-6 victory over visiting Holcomb in the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs.
"This means a lot," he said. "I want to help this team any way I can to win a state championship. If that means playing wide receiver, that's fine."
Fisher figures to be ready to go Saturday when Buhler travels to Abilene for a second-round showdown between ranked unbeaten teams.
On Tuesday, Buhler showed it has everything it needs to make another deep playoff run. Even without Fisher, the offense, while not nearly as explosive on the ground, was still efficient.
Meanwhile, Chandler Shantz and the passing game - one of the question marks this season — seemed to find its stride.
"I have never seen that much speed across the board on a defense," said Holcomb coach Jerry Johnson. "We've played Ulysses and Scott City this year and Buhler was so much faster. You think you have a hole and they are so quick to get to the ball."
The numbers won't show that. Buhler gave up 182 yards on the ground, but the lion's share of that game on two long runs — one by Holcomb quarterback Tyler LaSalle and the other by Heath Tucker.
And even with that kind of yardage, the Longhorns managed just one touchdown against a Buhler defense that has now limited the opposition to seven points or fewer in eight of 10 games this season.
Meanwhile, Shantz completed 7-of-11 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns — all of them to JP Lohrentz — as the Crusaders were the same old Crusaders, even without their featured ball carrier.
Buhler started quickly again in this one — a key for any favorite in the playoffs.
The longer an underdog is able to stay in the game, the more confidence it gains.
The Longhorns were given no chance to feel good about themselves in this one. They were given no reason to believe.
Eight plays into the game, Buhler culminated a 61-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard touchdown run from Riley.
The Longhorns lost a fumble on their second play from scrimmage and Shantz made them pay with a 3-yard touchdown that made it 14-0 before five minutes had ticked off the clock.
Shantz and Lohrentz hooked up on an 18-yard touchdown early in the second quarter and after another Holcomb fumble, the duo connected for another scoring strike - this one on a 24-yard fade route.
They had one more connection late in the third quarter when Lohrentz caught a short out route, put a quick move on and cut it back to the inside before breaking away for a 79-yard touchdown reception.
Holcomb 0 6 0 0 -- 6
Buhler 14 21 14 7 -- 56
B--Riley Allen 2 run (Ross Heide kick), 9:04
B--Chandler Shantz 3 run (Heide kick), 7:09
B--JP Lohrentz 18 pass from Shantz (Heide kick), 10:12
B--Lohrentz 24 pass from Shantz (Heide kick), 9:53
B--Allen 33 run (Heide kick), 6:28
H--Heath Tucker 5 pass from Tyler LaSalle (kick failed), 0:07
B--Allen 12 run (Heide kick), 6:00
B--Lohrentz 79 pass from Shantz (Heide kick), 1:39
B--Denton Branscom 34 run (Heide kick), 6:49
First downs 10 16
Yards rushing 182 273
Yards passing 58 175
Passes 7-27-2 7-11-0
Fumbles-lost 2-2 2-0
Penalties-yards 0-0 3-25
Punts-Avg. 4-45.3 3-26.5
Rushing--Holcomb: LaSalle 18-67, Munoz 9-15, Tucker 8-74, Gilbert 1-1; Buhler: Allen 21-153, 3 TDs, Garcia 6-51, Shantz 7-23, 1 TD, Miller 4-1, Branscom 2-37, 1 TD, Martens 1-5, Gehring 2-4.
Passing--Holcomb: LaSalle 7-26-2, 58 yards, 1 TD; Tucker 0-1-0; Buhler: Shantz 7-11-0, 175 yards, 3 TDs.
Receiving--Holcomb: Gilbert 1-8, Homer 3-42. Keegan 1-7, Munoz 1-1, Tucker 1-5, 1 TD; Buhler: Lohrentz 5-149, 3 TDs, Boman 1-21, Allen 1-5.