EMPORIA — There was no miracle comeback this time for the Holcomb Longhorns.
On the same floor, 52 weeks ago, the Longhorns rallied from multiple double-figure deficits to beat Topeka Hayden in overtime in the Class 4A-II semifinals en route to a state championship.
Saturday night, Hayden and Holcomb paired up for a heavyweight battle once again, but this time in the championship game.
And this time, Zach Harvey was the big difference in Hayden’s 65-57 triumph at White Auditorium as the Wildcats claimed their eighth state championship in 12 title-game appearances.
For the Longhorns, it brought a heartbreaking end to a magical season as they had pursued their third state crown in four seasons, having won in 2015 as well as 2017.
Down by 11 entering the fourth, 45-34, the Longhorns once again looked poised to rally and take the heart out of Hayden, but Harvey was simply too much.
The 6-5 junior led all scorers with 34 points, including 23 in the critical second half. He hit 13-of-18 field goals on a variety of driving buckets and two pivotal, deep 3-pointers.
But it was senior Hayden Federico, a 6-5 forward, who put the dagger right through the Longhorns’ heart midway through the fourth quarter, after Holcomb had pulled to within 52-49 with 2:49 remaining, as Federico scored five straight points during a Hayden 11-2 run that iced this one away.
“They’re a great team,” an emotional Trey Gilbert said of Hayden afterward. “The ball just didn’t fall our way tonight, and that happens in life and in games. You just have to move on.”
The Longhorns were throttled by Hayden’s height, and finished the game hitting just 21-of-55 shots (38.2 percent) while the Wildcats sizzled on 25 of 44 for 56.8 percent.
Kobe Dickson, in his final game of a stellar career, had a double-double of 13 points and 10 boards, but his lowest outputs of the tournament. Paden Cornelson, another senior, also had a double-double with 10 and 10.
Gilbert led the balanced scoring attack with 14 points and Carter Blackburn contributed 10 points off the bench.
“I’m proud of the way the boys battled the entire game,” head coach Chad Novack said. “Zach, he’s an exceptional player and I thought our kids battled him all night long. He can hurt you in so many different ways.”
When the Longhorns had trimmed that third-quarter hole once again, Novack said he liked just where they were.
“We had two or three trips down the floor, we got good looks, and they just didn’t fall,” Novack said. “We chipped away at their lead and we got possessions that we wanted. It just wasn’t our night.”
DeShawn Hanika was the only other Hayden player in double figures with 11 points.
The Wildcats, who play in a predominantly Class 5A and 6A league in Topeka, finish the season with an 18-7 record while the Longhorns, who had not lost since Wichita Trinity in the first week of the season in early December, ends with a 23-2 mark.
“Nobody gave us a chance to be back here when the season started,” Novack said. “Every day these kids did everything we asked of them at practice. I’m so proud of what they did, but more proud of how they conducted themselves.”
It was a blazing opening two minutes for the Longhorns, scoring the game’s first seven points, but the lead was short-lived as Hayden came right back and answered with a 7-0 run of its own.
The Longhorns scored the final six points of the period over the final 3:31, and finished with a 13-8 lead at the end of one.
The second quarter revved up the Wildcats’ offense as one of their two big guns — Harvey — pumped in nine points and Hayden built a 22-18 lead, before the Longhorns rallied to go up 23-22.
It was frantic back and forth, with Harvey knocking down a pair of free throws at 0:07.5 to make it a 27-25 halftime lead for Hayden.
Foul trouble once again plagued the Longhorns in the half, as Dickson, Gilbert and Leyva all picked up two fouls, with Leyva and Dickson getting theirs in the early moments of the second.
The Longhorns had a slender 17-13 rebounding edge in the half as Paden Cornelson had seven and Dickson six boards.
But cold shooting came up once again to bite the Longhorns in the first half, hitting only 8 of 26 (30.8 percent) while Hayden was 9 of 21 (42.9 percent). Blackburn came off the bench to provide a big lift, scoring eight points.
Notes: Holcomb’s state championships came in 1986 and 1992 under Dave Novack, Chad’s father; and since Chad has been holding the reins for the Longhorns, they have won in 2015 and 2017.
Prior to Saturday’s title game, the Longhorns were 4 for 4 in basketball championship game victories, 2 for 2 in football and 1 for 1 in baseball.
Completing his seventh season with the Longhorns, Novack is 143-24 at HHS and 223-88 overall.
Topeka Hayden was playing in its 12th state championship game, having won seven of them previously, the last coming in 2008.