As frustrating as this season has been for Bishop Carroll because of its lack of close games — a 31-point win in the season-opener was the closest margin — coach Alan Schuckman has not doubted the Eagles’ skill or poise.
Carroll didn’t flinch or falter when put in a 21-17 hole late in the first half against Hays Friday night in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Instead, Carroll scored four unanswered touchdowns for a 52-27 victory to improve to 10-0.
“You’re always a little nervous; you’re playing a good football team,” said Schuckman, whose team travels to Andover (8-2) on next Friday. “People forget that these guys have played in big games. This year we’ve had it easy at times, but our seniors played in the (5A) state championship game two years ago. They played in a big state semifinal game last year. We beat Hutch. They’ve played in big games.
“It’s not like they’re going to freak out when things go bad.”
There was cause for concern early. Hays was physical defensively and physical with its offensive line as it drove 53 yards on its first possession, capping the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Alex Delton to Chance Pitcock.
On two of its next three drives, Hays scored, getting a 34-yard run from Delton and a 39-yard pass from Delton to Emilio Mitchell.
“We can’t sit back,” Carroll defensive lineman Zach Befort said. “W did that in the first half, and they were walking down the field on us. They could do whatever they wanted.”
Hays had eight first-half plays of double-digit gains, and all five of Delton’s pass completions were for 16 or more yards.
While Hays was scoring like coach Ryan Cornelsen wanted, the defense failed to stop Carroll on its final four possessions of the first half.
Less than a minute after Hays scored the game’s first touchdown, Carroll quarterback Zeke Palmer hit Matt Denning for a 66-yard touchdown pass to tie the score. On the next possession, Palmer ran for a seven-yard score. He also threw an 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:03 remaining in the first half for the 24-21 halftime lead.
Palmer finished 16-of-21 passing for 216 yards and three touchdowns. He had two rushing touchdowns, as well.
“We wanted to get ahead of the score and we did early,” Cornelsen said. “Then they came back and put 14 on us real quick. With a team like that, you don’t want to play from behind because they’re so good offensively.”
Carroll opened the second half with three touchdowns on its first four possessions to go up 45-21.
“We knew we were going to come out and do what we can do,” Palmer said. “We were just waiting for us to turn the tide and take over. We’ve been there. Sophomore year when we beat Hutchinson and seeing tough football like that; it’s our turn now for playing tough football.”
Carroll fumbled twice in the second half, but each time the defense came through. Alex Meyer intercepted Delton on the first play of the fourth quarter, one play after Carroll’s fumble. Two plays later, Tory Smith scored one of his two touchdowns. He finished with eight carries for 124 yards.
After Carroll fumbled on its next possession at its own 25, the defense held and forced the Indians to turn it over on downs.
“The defense really stepped up,” Palmer said. “That felt really good that our defense, we can trust them and they’ll give us the ball.”
Hays (7-3) 7 14 0 6 — 27 Carroll (10-0) 7 17 14 14 — 52 H—Pitcock 16 pass from Delton (Clark kick)
BC—Denning 66 pass from Palmer (Ohm kick)
BC—Palmer 7 run (Ohm kick)
H—Delton 34 run (Clark kick)
BC—Ohm 33 FG
H—Mitchell 39 pass from Delton (Clark kick)
BC—Denning 18 pass from Palmer (Ohm kick)
BC—Palmer 19 run (Ohm kick)
BC—Denning 20 pass from Palmer (Ohm kick)
BC—Smith 9 run (Ohm kick)
H—Weigel 8 pass from Delton (pass failed)
BC—Smith 47 run (Ohm kick)
Rushing – Hays, Cardinal 18-55, Delton 15-55, Weigel 12-43, Pitcock 1-4. Carroll, Smith 8-124, Palmer 15-61, Hernandez 7-21, Goolsby 4-7.
Passing – Hays, Delton 7-13-116-1, Bixenman 0-1-0-0. Carroll, Palmer 16-21-216-0.
Receiving – Hays, Pitcock 2-40, Deterding 2-36, Mitchell 2-32, Weigel 1-8. Carroll, Denning 7-127, Harvey 7-71, Henning 1-19, Armstrong 1-(-1).