NICKERSON – Hoisington High free safety Cameron Davis saved the day for the Cardinal football team.
Davis intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble as the Cardinals outlasted Nickerson 22-6 Friday night after getting outplayed at times by the underdog Panthers.
Davis’ second interception preserved a 14-6 lead and led to Hunter Hanzlick’s game-clinching 79-yard touchdown run. His third interception came on a tipped pass by Panther Braden Stewart.
“I was in the right place and things broke my way tonight,” Davis said. “I’m reading pass, then trying to read the quarterback’s shoulders to see where the football’s going. I’m just trying to read the football. I was doing my best to help my team.”
The pesky Panthers hung within 8-6 and dominated the football after halftime, running 35 plays to three offensive snaps by the Cardinals.
Nickerson’s Tanner Schrag caught a leaping 16-yard TD pass from Wyatt Henson with 4:43 left in the third period for an 8-6 score.
But the Cardinals’ Steffan Dolechek stung the Panthers on the ensuing kickoff for a dazzling 84-yard kickoff return for a 14-6 lead. Dolechek weaved his way through traffic and picked up blocks along the way.
“That probably ranks at the top because it turned the game around. I probably ran 130 yards,” Dolechek said. “I just kept running and no one got me down. That’s the first time I’ve ever returned a kickoff for a touchdown.”
Hoisington coach said Zach Baird said, “There were guys hustling downfield and Steffan made a heck of a play. I was definitely concerned the way the game was going.”
Hoisington (2-0) plays at CKL-co-champion Pratt next week. Nickerson (0-2) travels to Lyons (0-2) next Friday.
Davis’ second interception stopped Nickerson’s potential tying drive at the 16-yard line.
Two plays later, tailback Hanzlick iced the 22-6 victory over Nickerson on a 79-yard touchdown run with 5:58 left in the game.
Hanzlick rushed for 121 yards and the Cardinals gained 212 yards after gaining more than 400 yards rushing last week.
“Both teams run flexbone offenses and come right at you,” said Baird. “Nickerson has some size and plays physical at the line. It was exactly the type of tough game that I anticipated. It was good we saw some adversity and fought through it.”
It erased a solid effort by Nickerson, which gained 269 yards and played ball-control football. Nickerson ran 70 plays to 38 snaps by the Cardinals.
The Panthers drove into Cardinal territory several times but failed to finish drives with touchdowns.
“We played better football this week. The kids played and delivered great effort for the first two weeks,” said Nickerson coach Mike Vernon. “We played two pretty good football teams that will win a lot of games. If we keep improving what we’re doing our wins will come in time.
“We’re just two touchdown passes away tonight,” Vernon said. “When we start winning games, it will come down to performing the little things in our offense, just tiny adjustments and getting one more block. We’re on the edge of doing things just right.”
Nickerson hung tough with the Cardinals for the second straight year playing rugged defense at the line of scrimmage.
The Cardinals led 8-0 at halftime on a hard-fought 71-yard drive on 11 plays. Hanzlick squeezed into the endzone on a 2-yard dive behind an offensive push by Justin Umphrey, Justin Bradley and Landen Urban. Hanzlick added the 2-point conversion with 9:22 left in the half for an 8-0 lead.
Cardinal Davis recovered a fumble by Cody Curl and intercepted a pass on the second-to-last play of the first half.
Nickerson scatback Orion Lewis and fullback Curl sparked the Panther offense on a 48-yard drive. Schrag caught a 13-yard pass. But Cardinals Justin Bradley and Zade Sanders helped pop the ball loose from Curl and Davis recovered at the Cardinal 22-yard line.
Bailey Daniels recovered a fumble by Zade Sanders to spark a 40-yard drive as the half wound down. Schrag made a circus catch stealing a reception from a Cardinal defender. Braden Stewart made a leaping catch just past the endzone on a perfect pass from Henson.
The Cardinals rushed for 128 yards and added 12 passing yards. The Panthers rushed for 84 yards and added 18 yards passing.
RUSHING—H, Hanzlick 12-121; Tyler Specht 7-17; J. Ball 2-21; Steffan Dolechek 1-(-3); Zade Sanders 7-39; Christopher Ball 2-17; Sean Urban 2-3; team 1-(-3). N, Ryan O’Toole 9-43; Orion Lewis 9-50; Cody Curl 9-57; Henson 5-11; Lehman 12-20.
PASSING—H, Specht 1-4-0 12. N, Henson 11-24-3, 88
RECEIVING—H, Hanzlick 1-12. N—Tanner Schrag 6-63; O’Toole 2-20; Stewart 2-15; Lehman 1-(-10).