HOLCOMB — The Holcomb Longhorns battled the Cimarron Bluejays to the bitter end of their season openers.
It took a spectacular catch to give Holcomb a 15-12 win.
Andrew Morss fought over and around Anthony Erives to make a 23-yard catch at the 3-yard line, giving Holcomb a second life that they desperately needed.
Cimarron had just scored on a Josh Seabolt 20-yard run to take a 12-7 lead midway into the fourth quarter. His team had the momentum and a chance to avenge a 55-13 Holcomb drubbing last year.
Then, senior quarterback Trey Gilbert led a drive that started at the Holcomb 20, going 10 plays with the Morss catch keeping the drive alive.
The 6-3 Morss was a step behind the 5-11 Erives, but the pass was underthrown. Erives was in the perfect position to get the interception, but Morss’ athleticism helped him go around the defender.
Gilbert took the next play up the middle to score, and then he converted a pass to Chance Rodriguez for the three-point lead.
Rodriguez stepped up huge on Cimarron’s next series when he recovered a fumble to give Holcomb the final possession.
“I just saw the ball and went after it,” Morss said of his game-changing catch. “I didn’t want him to have it.”
The two teams had similar offensive numbers (Holcomb 287 yards, Cimarron 278), but it was more about the defenses and some errors both coaches hope to clean up.
Both defenses out-shined their offenses in the first half, with each team accumulating just 121 total yards.
Holcomb threatened to score on its second possession following a Bluejay penalty for a first down at the 13, but the ‘Horns fumbled on the next play.
They took the ball down to the Jays’ eight early in the second, but three passes to the end zone failed.
Cimarron sustained an 18-play drive on the next series, but the Holcomb defense turned them back. On the Jays’ next series, Damon Kepley forced a Cimarron fumble and turnover.
Peyton Leonard took the opening kickoff after the half 43 yards to give Holcomb the spark they needed to score, capped by Gilbert’s 5-yard run just five plays later.
Following Seabolt’s first score, Holcomb punted after just four plays. On the Jays’ next drive, they elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-8, but it fell short.
It was Cimarron’s first-half penalties that hurt, first-year coach Greg Koenig (formerly of Beloit) told his team, telling them after the game they probably missed out on three scoring opportunities.
But still, he was very pleased with his Jays’ effort.
“I couldn’t be any prouder,” he said. “We’ve been preaching to them about staying above the line, controlling what you can with attitude and effort. We’ve just got to clean up penalties and turnovers and we’re going to be a good football team.”
Seabolt led Cimarron with 183 yards on 31 carries, including a 44-yard run to set up his team’s go-ahead his first score with six minutes to play in the third.
“When we took the lead, we felt we had them (Holcomb) on the ropes, and then we just didn’t put it away,” Koenig said. “We say every day ‘get better’ and that’s our whole focus. We’re just going to get better.”
Gilbert had 19 carries for 51 yards and completed seven passes for 130 yards. Kaden Tichenor had 17 carries for 92 yards.
Holcomb coach Kent Teeter saw a different Cimarron team from last year, with a new offense that was difficult to stop.
“It’s a new coach we’ve seen before when he was at Beloit, but their offense is something you just don’t see and it’s really hard to prepare for,” he said. “But there was first-game stuff we had to deal with. Both teams are going to learn a lot from this.”
The ‘Horns lost key players to graduation and this team has to learn who they are, Teeter said.
“We still have to learn where our niche is. I don’t think we’re going to be able to answer that yet, but we’re going to learn a lot from this game,” he said.
The low-scoring opener is odd for recent Holcomb teams, but it’s something his team will work on over time, especially road trips to league rivals Scott City and Ulysses the next two games.
“I tell them it’s never as good as you think it is, it’s never as bad as you think it is, and from week one to week two, the good teams get better,” Teeter said. “We did a lot of good things tonight; we just have to try to eliminate the mistakes and the inconsistencies at times.”
Holcomb travels to Scott City on Friday for its Great West Activities Conference opener while Cimarron will host Stanton County in a match-up of Hi-Plains League teams.