No. 1 Conway rolls over Trojans in regionals

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Conway Springs lived up to its billing as Class 3A’s No. 1 team as the undefeated Cardinals simply overpowered the Hillsboro Trojans, 42-14, Saturday at Reimer Field to win the regional championship.

The loss ended Hillsboro’s season at 7-4 while Conway Springs moves on to a sub-state showdown with undefeated Norton this weekend.

Particularly in the first half, the Cardinals seemed to be embodiment of the “irresistible force” that, in a great matchup, squares off against the proverbial “immovable force.”

Try as they might, the Trojans were hardly immovable. By halftime, the Cardinals led 21-6, but that score did not do reflect the way Conway dominated play. A better gauge was the Cardinals’ 258 rushing yards on 40 carries compared to the Trojans 73 yards on six carries.

Fueled once again by the slight-of-hand ball handling out of their infamous Wing-T formation, the Cardinals took the opening kickoff and slowly but steadily marched down the field.

On their 13th play, quarterback Matt Wykes crossed the goal line from two yards out to cap the 69-yard drive. Jason Benge’s kick made it 7-0 with 6:47 left on the clock.

But then Hillsboro, on its second play from scrimmage, took a David-like shot at the Goliath of the Gridiron when senior Caleb Marsh skipped off left tackle, then cut to the sideline for a 68-yard touchdown.

His extra-point kick was blocked, but the hometown fans dared to believe in miracles with the score at 7-6 with 5:56 left in the quarter.

But this giant was far from fallen. If anything, the Trojan score seemed to served as a wakeup call. The Cardinals came back on their next possession and steamrolled 70 yards on only five running plays.

Darrin Seiwert’s one-yard run was easily the shortest gain of the drive, but it was the only real estate left to claim. His touchdown and Benge’s extra-point made it 14-6 with 3:44 still to play in the opening period.

When the Cardinal defense stopped the Trojans in four plays, the offense resumed its assault at the Conway 20.

This time the Cardinals went back to the grind-it-out slowly approach, covering the 80 yards to the Trojan end zone in 16 plays. Wykes slid off left tackle for a one-yard score. Benge’s kick made it 21-6 with 7:50 left in the half.

When Hillsboro went three-and-out on its next possession, the Cardinals set off again, this time from their own 27. But eight plays into the drive, with the Cardinals lining up at the Trojan 2-yard line, Wykes made a bad pitch and the Trojans recovered the football at the 7-yard line to avert a fourth score.

Hillsboro had to punt the ball back to the Cardinals yet again after picking up one first down, and Conway took over at its own 37. But on the first play from scrimmage, Benge proved his leg was much more accurate than his arm when Brodie Unrau picked off his off-target halfback pass.

Hillsboro suddenly had the ball at the Cardinal 46-yard line with 36 second left in the half. But three incompletions-one by Marsh from the halfback spot and two by quarterback Derek Hamm-forced Hillsboro to kick away their opportunity with only 4 seconds left before intermission.

The third quarter was more of the same.

Conway stopped the Trojans in four plays to open the third period, then scored that fourth touchdown of the game on a four-play, 51-yard drive.

The big play was a 31-yard pass from Wykes to Shane Gerber to give the Cardinals a first down at the Trojan 12-yard line. Two plays later, Sykes slipped into the end zone from eight yards out.

Benge missed his kick, but Conway was up comfortably, 27-6, with 8:47 left in the third quarter.

On its second possession of the half, the Trojans ran two plays, including a bad-snap fumble for a seven-yard loss, before Hamm threw a pass into the hands of Conway’s Wes May at the Trojan 42.

Four plays later, the Cardinal’s Wykes was in the end zone once more, this time on a three-yard jaunt. Seiwert ran in the 2-point conversion to boost the lead to 35-6 with 6:19 left in the third quarter.

Hillsboro drove from its own 38 to the Cardinal 30 before running out of downs on three straight incompletions.

Then, for the first time, the Trojan defense forced the Conway varsity to punt after stopping a seven-play drive at midfield.

But on the first play from scrimmage, Wykes turned into a defensive pain by intercepting a Hamm pass at the Hillsboro 29. Four plays later, Seiwert was in the end zone with an 11-yard run and Benge’s kick made it 42-6 in the opening minute of the final quarter.

The Cardinals’ second string took over at that point, and Hillsboro began moving the football.

After a good kickoff return by Marsh gave Hillsboro the ball at its own 47, the Trojans scored nine plays later on a 12-yard pass to Tim Funk. Hamm’s 2-point conversion pass was on target to Unrau and the lead was cut to the final margin, 42:14.

The Trojans almost scored again in the waning seconds of the game when they drove from their own 31 to a first-and-goal at the Conway 5-yard line. But four running plays left the Trojans out of downs and a yard short of the end zone with 16 second left to play.

After the game, Trojan coach Dustin McEwen gave Conway Springs its due, noting the size and strength of the Cardinal line.

“We have a Wade Weibert come along, a big kid like that (6 feet 3 inches, 240 pounds), once every 12 years, and they have 12 every two years,” he said with a rueful smile and shake of the head. “They’re big, they’re physical. It was a lot to ask for us to try to contain them.

“But we did a good job of sticking with it and not giving up,” he added. “That was the kind of effort we needed to give. Something really special would have had to happen for us to win.”

Conway Springs finished with 353 rushing yards on 54 carries; Seiwert led the way with 169 yards in 24 attempts. Wykes added 85 yards rushing and 83 yards throwing.

Marsh finished his HHS football career with 100 rushing yards on seven carries. As a team, the Trojans managed 156 yards on 30 carries.

Hamm completed eight-of-21 passes for 82 yards and threw two interceptions.

“We’re looking at the positive things that came out of this year, a year in which we won quite a few ballgames-maybe more than a lot of people would have given us credit for early in the year,” McEwen said.

“We are so much better than we were (early in the season), and are able to do some things that earlier in the year we couldn’t come close to doing,” he said.

“I’ve got to applaud my seniors. Some of them contributed a lot, and for some of them it was their first year to contribute. They did a good job.

“As I told them, when you get into this position in the playoffs, you always have to end the season on a loss-or win a state championship,” he added. “The rest of us will come back in the search of the championship next year. As for the seniors, we wish them well and thank them for a good time.”

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