There are probably multiple words to describe how the high school football scene unfolded in central Kansas on Friday, and a simple word to settle on would be “wild.” That certainly was accurate at Gowans Stadium in Hutchinson as both the Salina Central Mustangs and Hutchinson Salthawks were looking to even their season records following an 0-2 start.
First off, the start of the game was delayed nearly 55 minutes due to a nearby thunderstorm producing lightning too close to the stadium. The storm itself avoided Hutchinson but coaches, players and fans alike all had to wait almost one hour to kick things off.
Hutchinson would take the opening possession and march 65 yards with their triple-option offense that is almost entirely predicated on running plays. Jalen Barlow capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run but the extra point failed and the Salthawks led 6-0 with 9:01 left in the first quarter.
Later in the opening period, the Mustangs put together a drive which included a big fourth down conversion as quarterback Jackson Kavanagh found wide receiver EZ Jackson for a 30-yard TD strike. Kray True’s extra point was successful and Salina Central led 7-6.
About midway through the second quarter it appeared that Hutch would retake the lead when Barlow broke several tackles and was headed for the end-zone. But right at the goal-line, he fumbled the ball which then tumbled out of the end-zone. After a short discussion, the officials ruled the ball did not cross the goal-line prior to the fumble and thus a touchback was called. The ruling did not sit well with anyone in Hutchinson blue, particularly head coach Mike Vernon who immediately drew two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, plus a third flag for five more yards and he was ejected from the contest.
Instead of taking over at their own 20, the Mustangs took over at the Hutch 45 after the penalty yardage was assessed. Salina Central was unable to pick up a first down and head coach Mark Sandbo elected to punt for field position. That decision paid off as Dakota Hogan downed Jaxon Kolzow’s punt at the Hutch 1-yard line. On the next play, Daelan McKnight knifed through and tackled Salthawk running back Alec McCuan in the end-zone for a safety and a 9-6 Mustang lead.
Salina Central would keep the foot on the gas and mount another scoring drive, this one finished by Kavanagh as he dove across the goal-line for a two-yard score. Up 15-6, the Mustangs decided to go for two. Kavanagh rolled right, pivoted back and threw a high floater back to the left which wound up in the hands of Quinton Stewart. The Mustangs led 17-6 with 2:25 left in the half and they were not done yet.
The Mustang defense forced a punt, and return man Gage Prester had to retreat back to his own 18 where he fielded the ball near the sideline, reversed sides of the field, got a couple of key blocks and scampered 82 yards for a touchdown. The PAT kick made it 24-6 with 40 seconds left and that would remain the score all the way through the third quarter.
The Salthawks held the ball through most of the third period, eating clock with their rushing attack. But they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with fumbles in the red-zone. Two more giveaways deep in Mustang territory prevented them to cutting into the deficit. Hutch would finally strike with 9:00 left in the fourth as McCune ran in for a 3-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed and the Salina Central lead stood at 24-12.
Hutch had successfully executed an onside kick to start the second half, but another onside kick was recovered by Jackson and Salina Central took over near midfield. On 4th and 10 from the Salthawk 20, Kavanagh found Logan Heigele who made a tremendous catch between two defenders at the goal-line for the final touchdown of the night, as it was the Mustangs improving to 2-2 with a 31-12 victory.
On many occasions a final score will align with the yardage gained by the respective offenses. That was not the case on Friday as Hutchinson out-gained Salina Central 315-173. The Salthawks came into Week 4 only averaging four pass attempts per game. They only attempted three passes against Salina Central and did not complete a single one. Hutch did have two rushers eclipse 100 yards. McCune rushed 25 times for 132 yards, and Barlow ran for 106 yards on 13 carries. For the Mustangs, Kavanagh threw for 100 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for 47 yards. Cooper Chard had 26 yards on the ground.
Salina Central will look make it three straight wins when they travel to Haysville-Campus next Friday.