Through the first two quarters of play in Friday's rivalry clash between Halstead and Hesston, the game lived up to its billing. Both football teams entered the contest undefeated, looking to gain some leverage in both league and district standings.
While Halstead clung to a 16-6 lead over Hesston at the half, the momentum swung heavily in the Dragons' favor over the last two quarters on the way to a 46-6 victory at home.
"It feels incredible. That's a very good ball club," said Halstead coach Jason Grider of the win. "We knew it was gonna be a tough ball game. We knew we were gonna get the schemes that were gonna give us trouble and our kids just played a little better tonight."
After the teams traded punts to start the contest, Halstead found its rhythm in the running game on its second possession. Scott Grider capped a 10-play drive with a two-yard touchdown run and the two-point conversion gave Halstead an 8-0 lead early.
Both defenses made stands deep in their own territory on the next couple of series before Scott Grider and the Dragons went back to work on the ground. On a crucial fourth down, Grider eluded a number of Swather defenders, going 15 yards for the score and helping put his team up 16-0 late in the second quarter.
Hesston's offense got into its own groove after that and marched down the field to cut the deficit before halftime, as Swather quarterback Jacob Eilert found Ben Bollinger for an 11-yard touchdown to make it a 16-6 ball game with 26 seconds left in the second quarter.
Despite an inconsistent offensive performance in the first half, Hesston coach Tyson Bauerle said his team liked the position it was in at the break. Coming out to start the third quarter, though, things quickly took a turn for the worse for the Swathers.
Following a near turnover on the opening kickoff, Eilert was then picked off by Halstead's Lakin Farmer, who returned it for a score and eight more points for Halstead. Cameron Kohr came up with an interception of his own on the Swathers' next drive and Hesston couldn't recover.
"In the first half, most of the things that could go wrong did for a while and going into halftime we were only down 10, knowing we got the ball back coming out. We liked what we were gonna be doing coming out after half (then) we got that fumble on the first play, that was rough, and then the tipped ball pick-six," Bauerle said. "We talked all week about (how) there's gonna be a lot of stress, there's gonna be a lot of stressors in this game that we haven't experienced yet. Two 4-0 teams, that's gonna happen, and we talked about our response — and we didn't really respond well after that."
After the second interception, Halstead rattled off a 14-play drive that was capped by Scott Grider's third touchdown of the night to make it 32-6 in favor of the Dragons, following that with his fourth score — on the way to 200 yards rushing — but the backbreaker came on the next drive.
Hesston turned the ball over on downs early in the fourth quarter, but looked to get the ball back quickly after a key intentional grounding penalty forced Halstead into a third down with 34 yards to go. But Scott Grider delivered, like he had all night, building up steam and making defenders miss to convert the first down.
"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. We were pretty fortunate he had a nice run," coach Jason Grider said. "He just does stuff that you can't coach and that I haven't had a lot of kids be able to do."
Farmer capped off that drive with a 23-yard touchdown run and then picked off Eilert one last time in the end zone to secure the 46-6 victory for the Dragons.
Remaining undefeated wasn't easy for Halstead (5-0), but coach Jason Grider said he was proud of the grit and toughness his team showed in some rough situations to be able to pull out the win. Conversely, that is something Bauerle hopes to see from this Hesston squad (4-1) in the coming weeks.
"The value here is we didn't have our best showing, things went poorly, we didn't do what we had worked on and planned. Now, let's assess the situation, address what's going on and let's have a great bounce-back game next week," Bauerle said.
Next up, Hesston will host Rock Creek while Halstead will be on the road at Clay Center on Oct. 11.
1q. Hal. S. Grider 2-yd. run (C. Hiebert pass from Farmer) 5:58
2q. Hal. S. Grider 15-yd. run (S. Grider run) 4:28
2q. Hes. Bollinger 11-yd. pass from J. Eilert (run fails) :26
3q. Hal. Farmer 20-yard interception return (S. Grider run) 10:56
3q. Hal. S. Grider 1-yd. run (C. Heibert run) 2:22
3q. Hal. S. Grider 7-yd. run (run fails) :47
4q. Hal. Farmer 23-yd. run (C. Hiebert run) 7:20
Rushing — Halstead: S. Grider 27-207-4, Kraus 18-78, Farmer 9-73, C. Hiebert 2-2. Hesston: J. Eilert 7-49, N. Arnold 3-11, M. Arnold 3-8, B. Cox 6-6, Griffin 1-0.
Passing — Halstead: Farmer 0-3-0. Hesston: J. Eilert 16-34-161-3-1.
Receiving — Hesston: Bollinger 4-45-1, Schilling 3-43, Slater 1-30, Griffin 3-17, M. Arnold 2-15, B. Cox 1-8, Esau 1-5, N. Arnold 1-(-2).