BY JIM MISUNAS
NICKERSON — Larned football coach A.B. Stokes felt a heavy heart. His players were disappointed.
Emotions ran high after a heartbreaking 26-25 loss to Nickerson Friday after the Indians twice built two-score leads.
Larned led 25-14 before Nickerson scored two late-game touchdowns to stun the Indians 26-25 in a Central Kansas League football showdown.
Quarterback Evan Skelton connected with Tanner Galliart on a 46-yard touchdown pass for a 25-14 lead with 7:09 left.
“That was a tough one. My heart hurts. The guys were upset and rightfully so,” said Larned coach A.B. Stokes. “It’s a team effort. We let one slip away tonight, but we won’t let this one game defi ne this football season.”
After trailing 25-14, Nickerson answered with a 63-yard drive, keyed by a clutch 16-yard run by Austin O’Toole and back-to-back passes to Tanner Schrag. Orion Lewis scored with 4:02 left. O’Toole and Jayden Harvey teamed for a sack to force a punt.
Fullback Cody Curl crashed into the end zone on a 1-yard dive with 59 seconds left for a 26-25 lead.
Nickerson benefited when a Larned snap on a punt went awry, causing a 31-yard loss to the Larned 18-yard line.
Curl dashed 13 yards on the first play and quarterback Wyatt Henson ran to the 1-yard line.
Nickerson survived desperation passes from the 34-yard line by Larned quarterback Skelton, who barely missed connections with receivers Isiah Perez and Galliart in the Panther end zone. Panther defender Austin Engelland made several touchdown-saving plays.
Larned (1-3, 0-3 CKL) was plus four on turnovers. Gary Barker, Landon Erway, Brandon Bartz and Jon Herter recovered Nickerson fumbles. Bartz’s recovery prevented a Panther touchdown at the Larned 1-yard line.
Kolby Keith caught a pair of touchdown passes and had 112 yards receiving. Skelton passed for 205 yards and Larned gained 297 yards. But Larned missed three extra-point kicks.
Stokes said he will re-evaluate the extra-point team.
“We controlled our effort, which is all you can do,” Stokes said. “We’ll continue to work on the things that plagued us and get better to give us a chance at post-season play. Making post-season is our goal. We’ll have to come ready to work next week.”
Nickerson (2-2, 2-2 CKL) overcame four lost fumbles and a punt that lost nine yards after a bad snap. The Panthers rushed for 249 yards behind a strong offensive line.
“I’m extremely proud of our team,” said Nickerson coach Mike Vernon. “The kids believed in each other and found a way to win. We did a lot things right. We shouldn’t be making mistakes like that. It took points off the board.”
Tailback Peyton Kuhns rushed for 116 yards before being sidelined with a leg injury. Back-up Curl stepped up.
Larned converted two Panther mistakes into a 18-6 lead. The Panthers lost two fumbles and lost nine yards on a botched punt.
Nickerson struck first on a 69-yard drive that was capped by Kuhns’ 3-yard touchdown.
The Indians responded with three consecutive touchdowns for an 18-6 lead. Skelton dashed 26 yards and Landon Erway ran 24 yards on a 58-yard drive. Erway scored from 5 yards.
Larned’s Barker and Erway recovered fumbles and the Indians started at the 16-yard line after a botched snap on a punt. Skelton completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Keith for a 12-6 lead. Keith made a leaping catch and beat defender Cody Casey on a 67-yard touchdown pass for a 18-6 lead.
The Panthers responded with a 64-yard scoring drive in 1:21. Stewart caught three passes for 42 yards and Kuhns scored on a 1-yard dive with 3 seconds left in the half. The Indians gained 158 yards and Nickerson gained 169 first-half yards.
NICKERSON 26, LARNED 25
Larned 12 6 0 7 — 25
Nickerson 6 8 0 12 — 26
N—Peyton Kuhns 3 run (run failed), 5:49
L—Landon Erway 5 run (kick failed), 5:07
L—Kolby Keith 15 pass from Evan Skelton (kick failed), 1:01
L—Keith 67 pass from Skelton (kick failed), 1:33
N—Kuhns 1 run (Austin O’Toole run), 0:03
L—Tanner Galliart 46 pass from Skelton (David Valadez kick), 7:09
N—Orion Lewis 3 run (run failed), 4:02
N—Cody Curl 1 run (run failed), 0:59
RUSHING—Larned 33-92, Erway12-56; Skelton 14-37, Nate Williams 4-21; Gary Barker 2-9; team 1-(-31); NHS 50-249, Kuhns 20-116; O’Toole 11-73; Cody Curl 4-23; Wyatt Henson 6-12; Lewis 8-17; Alex Snell 1-8.
PASSING—Larned, Skelton 7-21-0, 205; Perez 0-1-0; NHS, Henson 8-12-0, 107.
Halstead 4-0 4-0
Sterling 3-1 3-1
Hesston 2-1 3-1
Smoky Valley 1-3 1-3
Haven 1-3 1-3
Hillsboro 0-3 0-4
Friday’s games—Halstead 42, Smoky Valley 0; Hoisington 76, Hillsboro 6; Hesston 20, Lyons 3; Sterling 26, haven 22
Hoisington 3-0 4-0
Kingman 3-1 3-1
Pratt 2-1 3-1
Nickerson 2-2 2-2
Larned 0-3 1-3
Lyons 0-3 0-4
Friday’s games—Nickerson 26, Larned 25; Pratt 23, Kingman 19; Hoisington 76, Hillsboro 6; Hesston 20, Lyons 3