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Fantastic Four! Rossville denies Hoisington 27-20 for 2A state championship

Staff Writer
Topeka Capital-Journal
Rossville football players celebrate after receiving the class 2A state championship trophy after defeating Hoisington 27-20 at Salina Stadium on Friday afternoon.

SALINA — Rossville and standout junior quarterback Torrey Horak have gotten plenty of deserving notoriety for their offensive exploits in 2020.

Behind nearly 3,000 yards of total offense from Horak, the Bulldawgs boasted one of the most explosive offenses in the state, averaging 54.3 points a contest.

Lost in those numbers, however, was the championship-caliber defense the Bulldawgs and Horak developed along the way to Saturday’s Class 2A state championship game. And with Rossville’s offense not quite firing on all cylinders, it was that defense that delivered state championship No. 4 for Rossville.

Clinging to a one-score lead in the fourth quarter of the title game against fellow unbeaten Hoisington, Rossville came up with two key turnovers to fight off Hoisington’s upset bid as Rossville capped a 13-0 season with a 27-20 victory.

“I think our defense showed over the long haul that they were a good group,” Rossville coach Derick Hammes said. “Our defense was good and for the most part, we were assignment sound. ... We played hard, tackled well and controlled the line of scrimmage like we needed to do to win.”

Rossville’s title was its first since 2016 and the fourth in the last seven years. The Bulldawgs won three straight Class 3A state titles from 2014-16, each of those title games not decided until the final minutes or overtime.

So even though Rossville never trailed after scoring on its opening possession, it was hardly a surprise that Saturday’s game followed past history and came down to some key fourth-quarter plays by the Bulldawgs.

And they were provided by the defense.

“We’ve been good all year,” Horak said. “Today we knew we needed to stop the run and we did. Getting a couple stops and forcing a couple turnovers was huge.”

After leading 14-0 at halftime, Rossville saw Hoisington cut the deficit to 20-12 four plays into the fourth quarter on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Mason Haxton to a wide-open Cole Steinert. Rossville then went three-and-out, but a 46-yard punt by Tyree Sowers pinned the Cardinals back at their own 12.

On the Cardinals’ first play, Horak jumped a pitch by Haxton, forcing a fumble that he jumped on at the Hoisington 1. Horak scored three plays later to put Rossville up 27-12.

“We’d practiced that play a lot this week,” Horak said. “Coach had preached keep flying to the ball on that and eventually you might get a turnover. I saw it, we read it and I wasn’t the only guy there. There was a couple guys and we got the ball. It was a big play.”

The swing was short-lived as Hoisington came right back and used a 42-yard pass play to set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Haxton to Steinert with 5:39 left to get within seven. When Hoisington stopped Rossville on a three-and-out to get the ball right back with just under four minutes to play, Rossville needed another stop.

The Bulldawgs got it. Starting at its own 10, Hoisington moved up to its own 40. But Rossville blew up a handoff exchange from Haxton to fullback Holt Hanzlick and Bulldawg senior defensive linemen Bryson Balch pounced on the loose ball to all but seal the victory.

“I can’t even describe how great that was,” Balch said. “I was reading the guy going down and the next thing I knew I saw the ball. I was like, ‘That is mine!’ I hopped on it and I wasn’t letting go.”

Two first downs later, Rossville was hoisting another state championship trophy.

Hoisington, meanwhile, finished the best season in school history one win shy of its first state championship. The Cardinals finished 12-1.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys with a lot of heart,” Hoisington coach Zach Baird said. “We didn’t get off to a great start, but the kids kept fighting and we dug ourselves out of the hole and gave ourselves a chance to try to find a way to win the game at the end. We just didn’t have enough and credit Rossville.”

Rossville dominated the first half. The Bulldawgs quickly covered 78 yards in nine plays with Horak capping the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.

Nothing came that easily again, however. Rossville added a second touchdown late in the second quarter with a 28-yard pass on fourth-and-10 setting up a 6-yard touchdown pass from Horak to Reeves for a 14-0 halftime lead.

But getting the ball to start the second half, Rossville sputtered. Horak was picked off on back-to-back possession after having thrown just one interception in his first 12 games and Hoisington turned the first one into Haxton’s 17-yard touchdown run.

“They frustrated us because they were good,” Hammes said of Hoisington. “We didn’t do things we typically do. It was just kind of little mistakes throughout the game that didn’t allow us to get into rhythm.”

If Horak was shaken, it didn’t show. He bounced back to break off a 66-yard touchdown run with the edge set by a pair of great blocks on the perimeter — an under-rated strength of the Bulldawgs this season.

“They do a lot of the dirty work and don’t get much credit,” Horak said of his receivers’ blocking efforts. “Those guys on the edge, they’re something else.”

Horak finished with 165 yards rushing with three touchdowns and also threw for 96 yards and a score.

The Bulldawgs held Hoisington to 174 yards rushing as a team, while Haxton threw for 100 yards and two touchdowns.

For a season that began with so much uncertainty, the ending was special for Hammes and his team.

“It never gets old,” Hammes said. “It’s a great accomplishment to go from not even knowing if we’d have a season. It’s unbelievable that we got to this point and the kids gave a great effort.”

ROSSVILLE 27, HOISINGTON 20

Rossville (13-0);7;7;6;7;—;27

Hoisington (12-1);0;0;6;14;—;20

Rossville — Horak 4 run (Reeves kick)

Rossville — Reeves 6 pass from Horak (Reeves kick)

Hoisington — Haxton 17 run (pass failed)

Rossville — Horak 66 run (kick blocked)

Hoisington — Steinert 32 pass from Haxton (run failed)

Rossville — Horak 1 run (Reeves kick)

Hoisington — Steinert 11 pass from Haxton (Boxberger pass from Haxton)

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing — Rossville: Rezac 5-18, Horak 21-165, Catron 5-30, Sowers 6-55, Kai. Brown 1-3. Hoisington: Haxton 16-60, Hanzlick 18-74, Morris 4-8, Mason 4-14, Steinert 8-29, Team 1-minus 11.

Passing — Rossville: Horak 8-18-2, 96 yards. Hoisington: Haxton 4-10-1, 100 yards, Hanzlick 0-1-0, 0.

Receiving — Rossville: Kenney 2-15, Kai. Brown 1-28, Reeves 1-6, Sowers 3-45, Rezac 1-11. Hoisington: Steinert 3-58, Richards 1-42.

Rossville's quarterback Torey Horak stretches past the goal line to score the first touchdown of the game as Hoisington's Chase Robinson tries to make the defensive stop during the class 2A state championship game against Rossville at Salina Stadium on Friday afternoon.