8M-II: Atkins helps Hanover win third straight title

Hanover's Thomas Atkins (9) runs away from an Osborne defender. (Everett Royer, KSportsImages.com)
By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Nov 24, 2018

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NEWTON – In 2016, Hanover’s Thomas Atkins enjoyed a standout performance in a state championship game victory versus Dighton. Last year, Atkins was unable to play in the title versus Hodgeman County because of non-injury related reasons.

This season, Atkins delivered an electrifying performance in a 58-50 Hanover victory against Osborne in the Eight-Man, Division II state game Saturday at Newton’s Fischer Field. The 108 combined points set a record for highest combined output in eight-man title annals.

Atkins collected eight catches for 148 yards and TD receptions of 20 and 47 yards. He also had a 17-yard rush and returned a kickoff 67 yards for a score.

“It felt really good to come back with my team,” Atkins said. “Going through the whole year, and then missing the best game out of them all is kind of the worst part about it, but I was able to come back and help my team get a W.”

Hanover led 12-0 after the first quarter and 32-12 at intermission before Osborne delivered a thrilling comeback. The Wildcats took advantage of three first half turnovers, including two lost fumbles.

Last year, Hanover defeated Hodgeman County, 54-48, and held on as the Longhorns had a big comeback. That contest first broke the eight-man championship collective scoring mark that had stood since ’78.

“We started off good, and we kept going, but we almost got complacent at the end,” senior Carter Bruna said. “Kind of like last year when they about came back, but we got it done, and it was a great feeling.”

Hanover’s senior class finished 50-1, captured its third straight title and bumped its winning streak to 38 contests, longest in eight-man state history since the 1980s. Hanover finished 13-0, and Osborne went 11-2. Osborne had won Division II crowns in ’13 and ’16.

Wildcat coach Matt Heuer captured his fifth state title. All-time, only Hanston’s Jerry Slaton has more among eight-man coaches with six.

With 4 minutes, 21 seconds left, the Bulldogs closed to 52-50, its closest deficit since the first quarter. Before Hanover’s offense took the field, Heuer had a long talk with senior quarterback Daiken Stallbaumer.

“We wanted to be aggressive,” Heuer said. “We didn’t want to just sit on it and run it up the middle per se, because they were kind of keying on our inside run game.”

After a two-yard Stallbaumer rush, Hanover called “Tommy iso,” a play it used multiple times Saturday. Atkins was generally matched up against freshman defensive back Mason Schurr.

“I feel like any time I line up across from somebody, I feel like I can trust myself, take anybody across from me,” Atkins said. “It just happened to be a kid who is not very experienced, so they gave me a chance, and I did what I can do.”

Stallbaumer turned and threw a quick pass down the line of scrimmage to Atkins. He had 1-on-1 with the cornerback, gained separation, ran down the sideline, broke a tackle and scored from 45 yards. Hanover missed the two-point conversion at the 3:25 mark for a 58-50 advantage.

“Backside Tommy iso, just get it into his hands and see what he can do with it,” Atkins said.

Osborne took over at its own 15-yard line. Hanover moved Bruna, a senior all-state linebacker, to the defensive line at defensive end and nose guard.  It marked the first time he’d played defensive end all year.

“They wanted me to try to shut them down and bringing it inside instead of outside, because they kept hitting our outside pretty hard,” Bruna said.

Two rushes netted six yards. Then, Osborne senior quarterback Darnell Holloway threw low. Senior Kade Miller caught the ball, but it was ruled to have hit the ground.

“Just like them, we were suffering from fatigue a little bit,” Heuer said. “But I thought that our kids that came in, did a pretty good job, and there towards the end, I thought we did a really good job of shutting down the outside.”

On the next play, Hanover stopped Holloway for three yards on a tackle from sophomore Colin Jueneman. Osborne had no timeouts left, and Hanover was able to run out the clock.

“We are just going to keep on doing normal play calls,” coach Brandon Wise said. “Maybe it came back to bite us. I don’t know. I will stay up all night watching that film and seeing what I should have done. They did a really smart move. They brought the Bruna kid down to defensive end. I should have seen that earlier.”

On 4th-and-1 from the Bulldog 15, Bruna had a pitch left, broke a tackle and gained the first down. He finished with 16 carries for 112 yards and a TD.

“I was going to do everything I could to get there,” Bruna said.

Darnell Holloway finished with 25 carries for 156 yards and three scores. He also completed 5 of 9 passes for 113 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Junior Darrien Holloway delivered 30 rushes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

“An extremely good football game between two really good football teams,” Heuer said. “I thought our kids did a pretty good job offensively. Defensively, I thought that we probably could have been a little more gap assignment sound, but at the same time, I thought that we did a good job of making them earn it. It’s not like they really hit us with a lot of big plays.”

For Hanover, senior quarterback Daiken Stallbaumer finished 12 of 13 passing for 203 yards and three scores, two to Atkins and one to senior Pete Peters.

Early, Osborne closed the game to 12-6 when Hanover called “Tommy iso.” Atkins took a quick pass on the right, ran all the way across the field, and down the left sideline for a 46-yard play.

“He is a tremendous athlete,” Bruna said. “I mean, as you can tell, when we just throw it out there, he is explosive and fast. It’s a very good offensive asset to have on our team. He brings a ton of options to the table.”

Stallbaumer scored on the next play from five yards out. He delivered 14 carries for 108 yards and three TDs.

“Tommy iso on the backside,” Atkins said. “Coach put enough trust in me to get the ball into my hands and make a guy miss, and that’s just what I was able to do and gain some yards for my team.”

After Osborne sliced the margin to 20-12, Atkins immediately returned the kickoff 67 yards for a score and 26-12 advantage.

Hanover finished 2 of 9 on two-point conversions. In the second half, Hanover led 52-42 when Osborne forced the game’s first and only punt with 6 minutes, 21 seconds left in the contest.

“We just kept on fighting and grinding it out,” Wise said. “Darnell made a great job with his reads. Darrien ran hard. Everyone ran hard. I am just proud of everybody.”

Heuer said “this is a totally different ball game” if Hanover converted more two-point conversions.

“They did a good job of shutting us out on two-point conversions,” Heuer said. “That made it a little bit tighter.”

Osborne closed the game to two points on a 10-yard run from Darnell Holloway, and set the stage for Atkins’ final play and finish.

“Everybody’s like, ‘What play do we want to run?” Atkins said of his last score. “Everybody said ‘Tommy iso,’ so they gave it to me.”


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