The Battle of the Mayor’s Cup is known for magical moments and legendary individual performances.
Jackson Hayes and the Salina South Cougars won’t forget this one.
The senior receiver hauled in four touchdown grabs, rallying the Cougars from 21-points down to stun their cross-town rivals Salina Central, 34-28, Friday night at Salina Stadium. South scored 27 unanswered to snap a two-game losing streak to the Mustangs and improve to 2-5. Central fell to 1-7, losing by single digits for the fourth time this season.
Early on, it appeared the Mayor’s Cup would stay with the maroon and silver. Salina South’s first three drives – two punts and a turnover on downs. For Salina Central – three touchdowns.
The first came on a 14-play, 79-yard marched, finished off by senior quarterback Parker Kavanagh, who threw a 24-yard TD pass to junior receiver Logan Losey. Junior running back Micah Moore stole the show on the ensuing drive. The tough tailback opened with a 27-yard scamper and delivered a 39-yard touchdown on the third play of the drive.
Kavanagh then used his legs on a quarterback keeper to score from nine yards out, powering the Mustangs to a 21-0 advantage with 9:03 to play in the half.
Both teams had to deal with a stiff breeze coming from the north. South used it to its advantage as sophomore Weston Fries punted the ball to the Central one. The Mustangs settled for a punt from their end zone, and it sailed out of bounds at the 20.
That sliver of hope was all South needed. Facing a 4th and 3, Fries dumped a pass to the near side to Hayes, who slipped a tackle and sprinted into the end zone for a 13-yard score with 1:08 to go before intermission.
Central received great field position after a South penalty, starting on the 45. Kavanagh scored again with 36 seconds left, this time on a 10-yard carry set up by a 43-yard reception by Losey.
South countered quickly as Fries calmly led the Cougars down the field. On the fourth play, Hayes made a remarkable one-handed grab in the end zone from 28 yards out with eight seconds remaining. The extra point was blocked, making the score 28-13 at the break.
The rest of the way belonged to the Cougars, although Central has its chances. The Mustangs opened the second half with a deep drive to South territory, but one a 4th and short, South senior linebacker Carter Kirby blew up the backfield, forcing a turnover on downs.
Salina South couldn’t capitalize. However, the Cougars would strike after another special teams blunder.
A low snap in Central territory compelled a rushed kick, rolling out of play at the Central 33. On another 4th, Fries turned to Hayes again for a 29-yard TD connection with 4:18 to play in the third.
With the ball barely on Cougar ground, the Mustangs rolled the dice on a 4th and 4, only to be denied once more. Salina South moved quickly, keyed by a tough 25-yard catch by senior receiver Zach Davidson. Four snaps later, Fries faced pressure and delivered a desperation heave to the end zone, caught by Hayes for a nine-yard TD. South tied up the game on a two-point conversion pass to sophomore Luke Simpson early in the fourth.
Salina Central looked to go back on top. Senior receiver EZ Jackson altered his path on a heave by Kavanagh and made the grab, worth 38 yards. Central inched closer to the goal line, but suffered from the biggest blunder of the game.
On second down, Kavanagh received the snap and stood tall in the pocket, surveying his options. At the last second, South’s Kirby blitzed, hitting Kavanagh as he threw. Senior Owen Bulleigh picked off the pass in the end zone, setting up the game-winning drive. South completed the magical rally with a 10-play march, capped off by junior tailback Brandt Cox, who sprinted 24 yards for the touchdown.
Cox ended up with 162 yards on 35 carries. Hayes was the star of the night, catching 11 passes for 132 yards and four touchdowns. Fries was 17-of-29 passing for 212 yards and four scores.
Kavanagh was 9-of-23 for 165 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 65 yards and a pair of scores. Junior running back Micah Moore carried the ball 19 times for 121 yards and a TD.
Salina South and Central are both on the road to open the Class 5A playoffs. Official brackets will be released later.
*PHOTOS BY TANNER COLVIN*