After a couple of tough losses on the road to start the season, the Halstead Dragons looked like a team possessed in their home opener against the Kingman Eagles on Friday night.
Determined from the opening kickoff, the Dragons overcame some early penalties to keep the chains moving and march down the field on the opening possession to take an early 8-0 lead — never looking back on the way to a 48-7 victory in Central Kansas League action.
Quarterback Dalton Kraus found running back Aric Propst wide open in the end zone for the opening score, but fellow senior Noah Mendez proved to be his favorite target on the night. Kraus connected with Mendez on five passes for 181 of his 213 yards through the air, including two touchdowns.
As Kraus continues to thrive and set records only three games into the season, Halstead coach Jason Grider said the focus on the passing game — more so than usual — stems from the confident playmakers making the throws and running the routes.
"In the past, we've had usually one or the other, but not both. Boy, it's really worked out for us," Grider said.
Following a turnover on Halstead's second drive, the defense kept Kingman bottled up (holding the Eagles under 150 offensive yards on Friday) and Kraus responded with a quick score on the ground before Propst added a 16-yard touchdown run shortly after to make it 20-0.
Kingman found a rhythm in its own passing game to answer and get on the scoreboard halfway through the second quarter, as quarterback Riley Krehbiel found John Molitor on a 31-yard touchdown pass to make it 20-7.
The Mendez to Kraus connection started to bear fruit on the following Halstead drive, though, as the senior leaders delivered on a 19-yard touchdown pass. Following a defensive fumble recovery by Jonathan Fulghum, the pair displayed just how in sync they were on the final drive of the first half.
After a 35-yard touchdown strike from Kraus to Mendez was wiped out by a penalty, the duo just repeated the process for a 40-yard score that saw Mendez get over the top of two defenders for Kraus to hit him in stride — as the offense and quarterback/tight end combo showed how dialed in they were.
"Dalton is an amazing quarterback. I've actually played with him since I was in fourth grade," Mendez said, "so having that relationship, being best friends, and having that on the field is just a special thing."
Once in the locker room, Mendez noted the seniors weren't ready to let up either — stressing the need to build on a strong first half and close things out.
It was Mendez, fittingly, who seemingly put the nail in the Eagles' coffin, picking off a pass from Krehbiel on the third play of the third quarter. That was part of a strong showing overall by the Halstead secondary, which Grider said provided a spark for the team.
Propst added another touchdown run after that turnover and Scott Grider scored in the fourth quarter for the final margin of victory.
Though the game was decided early in the second half, the Dragon defense remained relentless — delivering big hits throughout the night, including two sacks on Kingman's final drive of the game. After a slow start this season, Grider said that may have been one of the biggest positives moving forward.
"We hadn't been real tough the first two games, and they rose to the challenge tonight," Grider said. "I was pretty proud of how tough they were tonight. We had a lot of mistakes, but when you have guys playing tough you can overcome a lot."
Banged up as they may be, Halstead continued to show some depth as well. If players get healed up and the offense continues to roll, Grider noted the Dragons (1-2) should have a lot to build on moving forward in the season.
7:10 Hals. D. Kraus to Propst, 18-yard pass (D. Kraus run) 8-0
1:50 Hals. D. Kraus nine-yard run (run fails) 14-0
8:46 Hals. Propst 16-yard run (pass fails) 20-0
5:42 King. Krehbiel to Molitor, 31-yard pass (Franco kick) 20-7
2:34 D. Kraus to Mendez, 19-yard pass (run fails) 26-7
0:09 D. Kraus to Mendez, 40-yard pass (Propst run) 34-7
9:12 Propst 20-yard run (D. Kraus pass to Fulghum) 42-7
4:37 S. Grider 26-yard run (pass fails) 48-7
Hals.: Propst 11-98-2, D. Kraus 11-69-1, K. Kraus 9-72, Lopez 4-31, Fulghum 2-18, Casey 2-2, S. Grider 1-26-1.
King.: Krehbiel 6-8, Pickering 3-(-1), Molitor 4-6, Waldschmidt 5-(-5), Ontiveros 2-3, Oller 5-5.
Hals.: D. Kraus 8-9-213-3.
King.: Krehbiel 11-15-123-1-1, Waldschmidt 0-1-0.
Hals.: Mendez 5-181-2, Propst 2-20-1, Odendahl 1-12.
King.: Molitor 3-58-1, Waldschmidt 5-32, Flanagan 1-23, Ontiveros 1-6, Pickering 1-4.