Railers drop narrow loss to Hutchinson

Gallagher Martin

HUTCHINSON — Needing three yards to convert on fourth down and run out the clock, the Hutchinson High football team gave the ball to running back Alec McCuan.

McCuan, who rushed for 240 yards and three touchdowns, gained exactly three yards. The Salthawks celebrated, believing they had picked up the first down.

But when the referees did not immediately signal first down, the Newton sideline began to get their hopes up.

It was close, and one team was going to be disappointed either way. When the chain gang came out for the measurement, it provided little clarity.

In the end, the referees decided the nose of the football crossed the line to gain, and the Salthawks were able to take a couple of knees to run out the clock in Friday’s 46-41 win in the opening round of the Class 5A Playoffs at Gowans Stadium.

“I thought we got it,” Hutchinson head coach Mike Vernon said. “It was very close. Where they spotted it, it could have gone either way.”

For the sixth time this season, Hutchinson played in a game decided by less than one possession. The Salthawks, now 8-1 overall, are 5-1 in those games.

“You can tell they are comfortable. They’ve been in those situations before, they understand what it takes. They’re used to it, and I think they kind of enjoy it,” Vernon said. “It gives me a lot of gray hair, but I think they’re very comfortable.”

Newton ends its season with a 2-7 record. Friday night was a rematch of a Sept. 25 matchup in which the Salthawks were a 54-42 winner.

“I think both teams have improved a lot,” Newton head coach Chris Jaax said. “Hutch is obviously a good team. Our kids did a lot of good things tonight, the game just came down to a millimeter.”

Of Hutchinson’s 320 rushing yards, 240 came from McCuan. The senior standout carried the ball 30 times, while three other Hutchinson rushers combined for 15 carries.

“I think you need to get the ball to the kids who can make plays and then let them play,” Vernon said. “Alec can be magical when he gets the ball, and we found a couple ways to get him the ball, and he took advantage.”

On the flip side, Newton quarterback Ben Schmidt threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns on 68 percent passing. Peyton Maxwell (10 catches, 141 yards, two touchdowns) and Xzavion Martin (six catches, 158 yards, one touchdown) were his favorite targets.

The difference was Hutchinson forced three turnovers while Newton forced none.

“The defense held on and made plays when they needed to make plays,” Vernon said. “That’s all we can ask for.”

The scoring began midway through the first quarter when Newton kicker Collin Hershberger - who finished three of on field goals - booted a 42-yarder to give the Railers a 3-0 lead.

The Salthawks responded when Myles Thompson connected on a 45-yard touchdown to Treyton Peterson to put Hutchinson on top.

With 11 seconds remaining in the first, Schmidt found Martin for a 26-yard touchdown to help Newton regain the lead.

On Hutchinson’s next drive, McCuan exploded for a 61-yard touchdown, only to see Newton running back Kenyon Forest answer back with a two-yard touchdown on Newton’s next drive.

Hutchinson was driving deep into Newton territory late in the first half, but failed to convert on fourth down. Instead of playing for halftime, Newton decided to try and put more points on the board, but that backfired when the Railers fumbled the ball into their end zone, and Hutchinson’s Jack Hawver recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

Hutchinson took a 21-17 lead into halftime, but Hershberger cut the lead to one when he converted a 29-yard field goal on Newton’s opening possession of the second half.

On a drive that was set up by a Devon Hackney interception, Hutchinson went on a six plays and 54 yards, capped off with a five-yard touchdown run by Jalen Barlow.

Newton scored nine straight points when Schmidt found Maxwell for a 10-yard score, then Hershberger kicked a 22-yard field goal.

Hershberger’s third field goal was set up by a fumble on a Hutchinson kick off return. The next time the Salthawks returned a kick, Peterson went 77 yards for a touchdown to put Hutchinson up 34-29.

“Treyton is a great kid, great competitor, and I’m glad it all worked out,” Vernon said.

Newton regained the lead when Forest scored on a four-yard touchdown, but it was the last time the Railers were out in front in this back-and-forth contest.

McCuan scored two straight touchdowns from 25 and 27 yards out, and although Schmidt and Maxwell connected on a 15-yard score, the Railers never got the ball back after their final score at the 3:39 mark.

Newton’s onside kick attempt was unsuccessful, and Hutchinson was able to run out the clock from there.

“I think that it helped [Newton] that they’ve seen us before, and it took me personally a little bit of time to make an adjustment to what they were doing to us in the first half,” Vernon said. “You could definitely tell they had a plan, and it was different than the last time.”

Hutchinson faces perhaps its toughest opponent of the season next Friday when the Salthawks host Bishop Carroll (6-2) in the second round of the playoffs. Carroll did not play a first-round game due to Valley Center forfeiting because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’re going to have our work cut out for us, and we’ll have to have a good week of practice,” Vernon said.

Newton graduates a talented senior class featuring Schmidt, Maxwell, Martin, Avery Dutcher, Nick Antonowich, Luke Boston, Cooper Burns, Dehann Nelson, Diego Arellano, Sam Claassen, Davis Mick, Kody Diringer, Aiden Kendall, Braiden Botterweck, Jaxon Brackeen, Max Ruth, and Jody Perry.

“A lot of these guys when they were sophomores on the JV team scored one touchdown their entire season,” Jaax said. “You don’t become that much better without really working hard at it. I appreciate all their faith in themselves, belief in the program, and how much heart they put into it. I feel terrible they couldn’t get a win here, but that’s just the way it goes.”