By BRETT MARSHALL
By BRETT MARSHALL
HOLCOMB — There really wasn't much celebrating in the locker room Tuesday night after the Holcomb Longhorns summarily dispatched Hoisington's Cardinals, 21-6, in their Class 3A bi-district contest at Holcomb High School Stadium.
There were multiple reasons for the lack of smiles and joy that usually comes with advancing to the second round of the playoffs, which they will do at 6 p.m. Saturday when they entertain Beloit in a regional battle.
First, the weather. Old Man Winter decided to get an early start with the gametime temperature hovering in the high 30s and the wind whipping across the field from the north at a brisk 25-30 mph. Don't forget the muddy field thanks to more than a half-inch of rain that fell overnight and early in the day.
Put all those together and the usually quick-strike Longhorns offense was frozen and stuck in the mud.
"This is one we'd like to forget," said senior quarterback Heath Tucker. "It's a win and now we can move on. But, yeah, it was miserable out there. It's the coldest I've ever played in. The grass was coming up, you couldn't get any footing. But they had to go through it, too."
Perhaps it was the lightning-like speed of Tucker that produced a touchdown on the Longhorns' first play from scrimmage, a 47-yard scamper when he turned back a left end option run and cut into the middle of the field and raced untouched. Juan Guerrero's point-after kick made it 7-0 and Holcomb had the ball for just nine seconds.
"We've done that before and I think sometimes we just think we can put it on cruise control," Tucker said.
But Holcomb coach Jerry Johnson was not so kind in his assessment of the game, especially his team's offensive woes.
Consider that the Longhorns played much of the game on the Cardinals' side of the field and yet came up empty on numerous occasions.
Twice in the first half, the 'Horns had the ball inside Hoisington's 10-yard line and coughed up the ball.
"You can blame the cold, blame the weather all you want, but we didn't have the focus or the discipline on offense tonight," Johnson said. "They were stacking the box and we just didn't do a good job of sustaining blocks. We weren't able to drive them back for more than two plays at a time, so that's something we've got to work on."
Then there's the issue of ball control.
The Longhorns have never been much for that all season and for the most part it hasn't hurt them.
But Tuesday night, the Cardinals played keep away for an astonishing 36 minutes, 23 seconds, leaving the ball in Holcomb's possession for a meager 11 minutes, 37 seconds.
"About everything that cold go wrong, did go wrong," Johnson admitted. "Then, we started pressing more. And then we pressed more and more went wrong. It was just one of those nights that no matter what you do, it wasn't going to turn out good."
Now about those turnovers.
The Longhorns fumbled it away themselves twice, threw two interceptions (one each by Tucker and Calen Rupp) and then they were dazed at the start of the third quarter when Hoisington onside-kicked and recovered it at the Holcomb 48. None of those gaffs, though, cost the Longhorns.
They had given up a 1-yard TD run by Nolan McCurry when Hoisington's best drive of the game covered 75 yards, took 15 plays and consumed 7 minutes, 18 seconds of the clock.
"I thought our defense was the big reason for us being able to win this game," Johnson said. "We played well. They had the one drive, but other than that I was really proud of the way the defense stepped up. Hoisington's got a good running game and we stuck ourselves in there and held them quite a bit of the night."
Despite having the ball for 67 plays, the Cardinals were limited to 202 yards of total offense, 54 through the air and 148 on the ground, that coming on 58 attempts. The Longhorns, meanwhile, struggled to figure out the blitzing attack of the Hoisington defense, which also made life miserable for running back Blake Richmeier (5 carries, 12 yards) and Tucker (16 carries, 74 yards).
"Not a good night by any stretch," Tucker said. "But now we get to play Beloit, and I didn't get to play them last year. If you're going to be the best, you've got to beat the best, and they're the No. 1 team."
After clinging to a 7-6 halftime lead, the Longhorns made it 14-6 at the 4:34 mark of the third quarter when Tucker found Braden Showalter all alone in the right side of the end zone from 18 yards out on a first down play. Guerrero kicked the second of three successful PATs.
Late in the fourth, with Hoisington trying to find a way for one big play with the score still at 14-6, junior Colby Casaus came up with his second TD return in two weeks when he scooped up a fumble by Cardinal quarterback Taylor Richter and rumbled 49 yards with just 0:09 left in the game.
"He just fumbled the snap, I saw it on the ground, scooped it up and scored," Casaus said. "It was just a reaction. There was wide open grass in front of me and I just ran as hard as I could."
It was the second consecutive year for Holcomb to eliminate Hoisington from the playoffs. The Longhorns won a 28-7 road first-round game in 2012. The Beloit game will be a rematch of the blowout 60-8 win by the Trojans in Beloit during the second round of last year's playoffs.
Hoisington 6 0 0 0 -- 6
Holcomb 7 0 7 7 -- 21
HOL--Heath Tucker 47 run (Juan Guerrero kick), 9:47.
HOI--Nolan McCurry 1 run (run failed), 2:29.
HOL--Braden Showalter 18 pass from Tucker (Guerrero kick), 4:34.
HOL--Colby Casaus 49 fumble recovery return (Guerrero kick), 0:09.
First downs 13 6
Rushes-yards 58-148 22-93
Passing yards 54 134
Passes 4-9-0 7-15-2
Penalties-yards 1-5 2-10
Fumbles-lost 4-2 4-3
Punts-avg. 7-24.4 3-43.6
Possession time 36:23 11:37
RUSHING--Hoisington: Richter 12-17, McCurry 22-75, Urban 22-56, Dolechek 1-(-2) Hanzlick 1-2. Holcomb: Tucker 16-74, Richmeier 5-12, Rupp 1-7.
PASSING--Hoisington: Richter 4-9-0--54. Holcomb: Tucker 6-12-1--136, Rupp 1-3-1--(-2).
RECEIVING--Hoisington: Dolechek 1-18, Stephens 1-18, McCurry 1-9, Urban 1-9. Holcomb: Gottschalk 4-110, Sleep 1-8, Showalter 1-18, Tucker 1-(-2).