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Thunder spoils Cardinals' title hopes
Tony Moore rushes the football and scores a touchdown for the Cardinals..jpg
Hoisington Cardinal quarterback Tony Moore rushes the football and scores a touchdown during the 2A Class 2A - State Football Championship game against Seneca-Nemaha Central in Salina. - photo by Hugo Gonzalez


SALINA — Hoisington quarterback Tony Moore showed off a split finger with a tint of blood. Guard Caiden Hoffman's drenched uniform blotched by blood spots exhibited a day-long battle in the snowy-covered trenches.

The Hoisington Cardinals went down battling on a snow-swept field that created slippery footing at Salina Stadium.

The Cardinals' Winter Wonderland was spoiled when Nemaha Central Thunder quarterback Carter Hajek scored four touchdowns with 265 yards rushing to deny Hoisington a 2A state football championship 28-14.

Moore performed brilliantly with two touchdowns and 125 yards rushing, 47 yards passing and a team leading five tackles and eight assists.

"It's a dream come true to play in a championship game like this," Moore said. "Competing in the snow made it special, something I'll remember forever. I wish I could've done more today."

Hoisington all-state guard Caiden Hoffman escorted Moore into the endzone on a perfect block on a fourth-quarter score. Hoffman lined up in the backfield and went in motion, the first time the Cardinals used the formation.

"It was fun lining up in the backfield. I never thought I'd go in motion," Hoffman said. "I'm proud of my team and what we accomplished to get here. It was fun, but very slippery. Kansas has weird weather, but we didn't expect that."

Hajek rushed 49 times and accounted for 53 of the Thunder's 55 offensive snaps. His 6-yard touchdown on an opening 65-yard drive started a 4-touchdown day for the Thunder (13-0).

"I'm 100 percent proud of this group. We were close, but didn't finish the job," said Hoisington coach Zach Baird. "They were better than us. It was tough condition-wise, but they were in it, too."

Jason Robinson's dazzling 22-yard return on his ninth interception led to a 7-6 Cardinal lead. Moore capped the 40-yard drive on a 4-yard run after a Thunder pass interference penalty. Taylen Morales converted the extra point. 

After halftime, Hoisington had no defensive answers. Hajek rushed 49 times, operating the quarterback run game to perfection behind tackle Holden Bass, who lined up in the Thunder backfield.

After Hajek's 33-yard dash, he scored on a 6-yard touchdown run for a 54-yard drive. After Abraham Hilbert recovered a Cardinal fumble, Hajek broke a 49-yard touchdown run for a 20-7 lead.

"They played better than us second half," Baird said. "We shot ourselves in the foot too many times and you can't do that. We didn't execute as well as you need to."

Hajek scored three second half touchdowns.

"Six (Hajek) was the difference," Baird said. "We didn't tackle him very well. You've got to win one-on-ones and get hats to the football. Give him credit."

Teron Kraft, who rushed for 1,125 yards, gained 27 yards on 15 carries. Mason Alderice gained 14 yards and had an 11-yard reception. Robinson (14 yards), and Mason Martin (17 yards) each had receptions.

Caiden Hoffman contributed eight tackles, Robinson seven, and Kraft and Gage Britt, six apiece.

Baird (99-19) finishes his second 12-1 season after a 2020 runner-up state finish.

"I'm proud of six seniors and everything they accomplished, and all the guys who have put us in this position," Baird said. "Unfortunately, not quite good enough today."

Hoisington 0 7 0 7 — 14 

Nemaha Central 6 0 14 8  — 28

NC—Carter Hajek 6 run (run fails)

H—Tony Moore 4 run (Taylen Morales kick)

NC—Carter Hajek 7 run (run fails)

NC—Hajek 49 run (Hajek run)

NC—Hajek 1 run (Hajek run)

H—Moore 3 run (Morales kick)

RUSHING—H—35-162; Moore 16-125; Teron Kraft 15-27; Mason Alderdice 2-14; team 2-(-4); NC—51-264; Hajek 49-265; Kramer 1-3; team 1-(-4).

PASSING—H—Moore 6-15-0, 47; NC—Hajek 2-4-1, 32.

RECEIVING—H—Mason Martin 2-17; Robinson 1-14; Alderdice 2-12; Kraft 1-4; NC—Sam Nordhus 1-20; Strathman 1-12.