Holcomb's strong defensive effort tops Frontenac in 4A-2

Holcomb defenders tackle a Frontenac player in Saturday's 4A-II title game. (by Derek Livingston)
By: Ben Mitchum for Kpreps.com
Nov 26, 2017

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SALINA, Kan. - On a beautiful fall afternoon at Salina-USD #305 District Stadium the Holcomb Longhorns (12-1) were looking to win their second state title in three years, and they did just that with a commanding 40-20 victory over the Frontenac Raiders (9-4).

Much as they did two years ago against Holton in the 4A-II title game, the Longhorns defensively shut down their opposition’s rushing attack. Holcomb limited Frontenac to 44 yards on 27 carries.

Forcing Frontenac to the air was the game plan the Holcomb coaching staff had in mind.

“We wanted to focus on the run game and try to stop them,” head coach Kent Teeter said.  “Our defense has just been solid all year long. To be able to accomplish that was big.”

“We knew that they might hurt us a little bit on the pass, and it did a couple times.  They're good enough to be able to throw the ball but we were just fortunate enough to get some interceptions early on that really helped us out to be able to get on the scoreboard early.”

The strategy by the Longhorns did not go unnoticed by Frontenac head coach Mark Smith.

“Yeah, the running game is a huge part of our offense and I just didn't feel like we were getting anything there,” said Smith. “We were just having to earn every yard we were getting when we were running the ball and they were putting us in some long situations on third down, second down, so they were kind of dictating the change on us and on such a good defense that's hard to do. So they get more aggressive and they get after you and you do that.”

Smith continued, “I thought our best chance to score and move the ball on them was to spread them out and throw it a little bit. Obviously, we turned the ball over several times in that first half and kind of got behind, but we did get some big plays.  The line of scrimmage was theirs today most definitely.”  

With the ground game halted, Frontenac turned to Peyton Brown to lead the offense.  Brown ended the day with 227 yards on 16 of 28 passing and three touchdowns, but had two costly interceptions early in the contest to give Holcomb good field position.  

The first came 9:05 in the first quarter when senior Chance Rodriguez snagged an errant ball out of the air bringing it back 21 yards. The second interception came with 6:56 in the first quarter when senior Carter Blackburn set up the first scoring drive of the game from around midfield.  

Coach Kent Teeter’s offense came into the contest with a very balanced attack averaging roughly 169 yards rushing and passing.  The Longhorn rushing attack did just that, churning out 167 yards on the ground.  

Junior Reece Morss got Holcomb on the board first with a 1-yard touchdown run with 5:30 left in the first quarter. Chance Rodriguez’s added the PAT to make it 7-0.  

Holcomb scored again on a 16-yard pass from senior quarterback Trey Gilbert to Rodriguez for a 14-0 lead.

Morss lead the Longhorn rushing attack with 71 yards rushing on 13 carries from his fullback position.  Senior running back Kaden Tichenor and Gilbert also contributed 49 and 44 yards on the ground, respectively.  

Peyton Leonard led all receivers with 109 yards on three catches and one touchdown, but it was Rodriguez who hauled in three touchdowns on four catches for 80 yards.  

Morss, one could argue, was the player of the game.  The 6-foot-1, 230-pound fullback/linebacker not only had 71 yards rushing, but also had 10 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception.

“Reece probably had one of the most athletic plays I'd seen.  It reminded us of the play we had a few years ago in the Andale game, a one-handed interception that was just big because it was in their territory and they were driving,” said coach Teeter.

“Reece Morss is really big and he ran the ball well. We used two running backs, him and Kaden Tichenor.  He also ran the ball well.  There's no doubt Chance Rodriguez had a big game.  He's been our main go to guy in the air but you can't concentrate on him because we have two speedsters on the outside.  We just look for ways to get him down the field and in some open grass,” said Teeter.

Gilbert was also just as effective throwing the ball.  He threw for 264 yards on 12 of 20 passing and four touchdowns.  He only lost one fumble but did not throw an interception in the game.  

“Trey Gilbert played extremely well and he ran the ball well,” said coach Teeter.  “It wasn't a ton of yards but it was six or seven carries for 44 yards. So he picked up some good yards when he needed to.  He converted some third down passes. I think they had him at 12 out of 20.  He had four touchdown passes but not only were the touchdowns big, he converted some third downs plays for us that were big in keeping some drives alive.  I thought Trey played well.”

The Longhorns as a whole did a good job protecting the ball, while Frontenac turned the football over five times in the contest.  

“In the last six games while we have been on this big winning streak, the one thing we have been great at is taking care of the ball, minimizing mistakes,” Frontenac head coach Mark Smith said.  “Holcomb, you have to give them credit, they made plays on a few of those interceptions and fumbles, they forced them.  They went up and got the picks.”  

Coach Smith said, “Some of them weren't very good calls by me and we were just trying to be aggressive and take advantage of their aggressiveness on defense.  We were very disappointed but you can't beat a great Holcomb team with five turnovers. Our kids battled, they just had too much to overcome in game like that.”

Gilbert got the second quarter started with a 6-yard touchdown run with 11:05 to go in the half.

Frontenac junior Brendan Ishimura had 5 catches for 105 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception on defense. Senior Zachary Rosebrough contributed 4 catches for 73 yards and a score.  

Ishimura’s interception came with 7:51 in the second quarter and his ensuring 55-yard reception had Frontenac set up in Holcomb territory. But the Raiders were unable to capitalize on the lone Longhorn turnover, fumbling the ball back away to Holcomb.

The Longhorns would answer on the ensuing possession when Gilbert found Leonard with a 85-yard touchdown strike to extend the lead to 27-0.  

Holcomb limited Frontenac’s Broc Ginavan to 6 catches for 40 yards. Ginavan, who has a FBS offer from Wyoming, was doubled much of the day and only late in the ballgame started to get more involved in the action.  

“Yeah, we've seen it a lot in the last three or four weeks,” said coach Smith. “They have people doubling him and putting an extra corner or support him with a free safety over the top.  They try to limit him as much as possible, which is going to open the game up sometimes and it brings in Ishimura and he has a lot of great catches, a lot of big plays for us.”

Smith continues, “It's frustrating because you want to get the ball to him as much as you can. We try to find ways to do it, and they did a very good job on defense.

Holcomb’s defense has been stellar all season and that did not go unnoticed by the Raiders head coach.  

“They put a little pressure on Peyton and he was uneasy in the pocket sometimes and he didn't have a lot of time to throw it, so let's give credit to Holcomb again, they kind of got after us up front,” said coach Smith.  “I thought their d-backs were very disciplined, very sound, they covered very well and we just didn't make enough big plays on offense.”

Coach Teeter also had great praise for his Holcomb defensive unit.

“Our defense has been solid all year long.  We said halfway through the season, if our defense keeps improving, it has a chance to be a state championship type defense.”

“As the year progressed, we said defense wins championships, offense you need to put points on the scoreboard and special teams needs to not hurt us with field positioning. So that's where we've been at since district play and during the playoffs.  Those three things have really worked out well for us.”

The Raiders got on the board right before half as Brown found Ishimura on a 27-yard touchdown strike to pull within 27-6.   

The Raiders made things interesting early in the third quarter as Brown capped a six-play, 57-yard with a 35-yard scoring pass to Rosebrough to pull within 27-13.

Frontenac got the ball back and drive to the Holcomb 12-yard line before Morss’ leaping, one-handed interception stopped the Raider momentum.   

The Longhorns pulled away early in the fourth quarter as Gilbert hit Rodriquez on a 52-yard touchdown to push the lead to 34-13. The two hooked up again on a 5-yard strike mid-way through the fourth quarter for a 40-13 lead.   

Brown hit Ishimura on an 8-yard score late in the game to pull Frontenac within the final margin of 40-20.  

Holcomb claimed a second 4A, Division II state title in the past three years. Teeter is now 43-7 since taking over the Holcomb program.

The Longhorn athletic program has a enjoyed an incredible run of success of late with two state basketball titles (2015, 2017) and a baseball title (2017) to go along with their two football titles.  

“It means a lot. What's happened with having some success in football, with basketball winning two state titles recently, and winning a baseball state title, our kids have gained confidence,” Teeter said.

“Our parents are just behind them saying, 'You guys need to work for it.' The neat thing about it is there's just an expectation, and they're like you guys need to do this, you guys need to do that.  All of our coaches in our building, it's just contagious when kids see it.  It becomes an attitude and it becomes a culture.  Our parents are just great. There's a lot of demand and there's a lot of expectations."

Teeter continues, “Sometimes people say that puts pressure on you but you would rather have that kind of pressure than the other pressure of not having any success at all.  Our kids just believe. It's given a sense of believing.  We talk a lot about faith in each other and we talk about believing in each other.  We talk about trusting each other.  We talk about 'Hey, you do your job and you don't have to do any more than that. Trust your teammate and we have been really blessed in that department. Really, really blessed.”

All was not lost for coach Smith and his ball squad either when it came to quality season they had themselves.  After a slow start to the season, a championship run was quite rewarding.

“A lot of teams, when you go 1-2 to start the year, can't recover from that,” said the 5th year head coach.  “We were turning the ball over a lot early.  We had a lot of penalties, we weren't tackling teams very well and the defense wasn't very physical. So our kids grew up a lot this year, just as an group and became better teammates.  They were playing with a lot more confidence at the end of the year, playing a lot faster, tougher and playing for each other.  And hopefully our young guys saw that and with the big run we had in the playoffs.  Hopefully they can learn from that.”

“And that will build for our program and be great for our younger kids coming up the next few years.  I think there's a lot of great things that happened for our kids this year, especially going to the state championship.  I know we had higher expectations of winning it when we got there, but Holcomb was a great team, they are very focused, well coached and they are in it to win it,” said coach Smith.

“So hopefully we can learn from our mistakes and get back and make another run at it next year.”

Holcomb had one motto this season and that was “Unfinished Business”.  

“Yes.  When we finished last year, we were just pretty disappointed that we lost to Pratt at home in the semifinals, and hats off to them.  They were the better team but our kids walked away with a little bit of chip on their shoulder,” said coach Teeter.

“I don't even know who said it, one of the kids or one of the coaches, but there was someone said, 'Well, we have unfinished business to take care of next year,' and so that stuck with us the whole year. So every week, almost every day, we talked about unfinished business.  We're not going to be happy until we get the outcome that we want.  So that was really neat and the last thing I said to them, when we broke it down after the game, was that it's now finished business. The seniors really wanted that bad this year. It was a big goal for them and I’m proud.”

Individual Statistics

Rushing - HOLC:  R. Morss 13-73, Tichenor 16-52, Gilbert 7-45, Blackburn 1-7, Goddard 1-3 FRON:  Wilbert 14-38, Clothier 4-13, Johnson 1-2, Ishimura 1-2, Brown 7-5  

Passing - HOLC:  Gilbert 12-20-1, 264 yards, 4 TDs; FRON:  Brown 16-28-2, 227 yards, 3 TDs, Wilbert 0-1-1, 0 yards, 0 TDs

Receiving - HOLC:  Rodriguez 4-80-3 TDs, Leonard 3-109-1 TD, Blackburn 2-36, A. Morss 2-14, Kaden Tichenor 1-25  FRON:  Ginavan 6-40, Ishimura 5-105-2 TDs, Rosebrough 4-73-1 TD, Clothier 1-9


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