(Courtesy of Kirk Hutchinson)
HOLCOMB, Kan. — The Holcomb Longhorns opened the 3A playoffs at home, but couldn’t get past the Clearwater Indians on Friday night, falling 31-15 to the visitors.
Coming out of a district that also features defending champion Andale and Wichita Collegiate, Clearwater struck first, driving 70 yards in 16 plays to go up 6-0. Quarterback Tanner Cash hit Brock Toothaker for a 9-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive.
Holcomb responded with a quick, six-play drive deep into Clearwater territory, but Cash picked off a Kaden Johnson pass and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, the Longhorns trailed 13-0.
Holcomb’s third possession started at Clearwater’s 38-yard line, but facing third-and-long, Johnson threw his second pick of the night. Trent Hastings returned the pick to the 45-yard line, setting up a seven-play drive that Toothaker finished off with an 18-yard TD run.
Clearwater took a 19-0 lead into halftime.
Holcomb started the 2nd half hoping to put together a scoring drive, but Kaden Johnson fumbled the snap on the first play and Clearwater recovered at the Longhorn 28. Cash hit Lane Pierce with a 22-yard touchdown pass to stretch the lead to 25-0, just over a minute into the 3rd quarter.
Later in the quarter, Holcomb turned back a Clearwater drive, when Chris Palacios intercepted a deep pass from Cash to set up the Longhorns on their 14. But six plays later, Pierce picked off another Kaden Johnson pass to regain possession.
Clearwater would drive to the Holcomb 25, but the defense forced the Indians to turn it over on downs. The Longhorns then drove to the Clearwater 10, but a penalty pushed them back outside the 20. On fourth down from the 14, Toothaker picked off Johnson at the 1. It was the fourth interception of the night for Clearwater.
Holcomb’s defense would force a punt and the Longhorns drove 52 yards in four plays. Johnson hit Damon Mesa for a 9-yard touchdown. Holcomb converted a 2-point try, making the score 25-8.
Holcomb forced another three-and-out and took over on its 35 after the Clearwater punt. Four plays later, Johnson connected with Mesa again and Damon turned a 1st-down gain into a 51-yard touchdown play. Edgar Ramirez added the extra point and the Longhorns trailed by 10, 25-15 with 1:33 to play.
Cash ended all hopes of a comeback with a 70-yard touchdown scamper on Clearwater’s next play.
Holcomb drove to the Clearwater 33, but ran out of time to get another score.
Cash led all rushers with 147 yards and also finished 8 out of 18 passing for 45 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception.
Kaden Johnson completed only two passes for 8 yards, with two interceptions in the 1st half, but threw for 258 yards and 2 TDs in the 2nd half, along with 2 more interceptions. Johnson finished the night completing 20 passes on 38 attempts for 266 yards. The Longhorns managed only 65 yards on the ground.
For the season, Kaden Johnson, a junior, threw for 1,715 yards and 21 touchdowns, with 7 interceptions. He also rushed for 137 yards and four touchdowns. His number one target was fellow junior Levi Knoll, who finished the season with 40 catches for 705 yards and 9 TDs. Another junior, Kolby Johnson, was the team’s leading rusher, with 621 yards and 10 touchdowns on 126 carries. Kolby Johnson and Knoll were also the team’s leading tacklers, with 62 and 60 tackles respectively.
Holcomb finishes the season at 7-2, with losses to Cheney and Clearwater, both advancing in the 3A playoffs. Clearwater improves to 7-2 and will face defending champion Andale in the next round.