The roller-coaster ride of a season opener took its toll on Salina South on Friday in the battle of No. 1-ranked teams against Derby.
Senior running back Mike Jones was part of a parade of Cougars sidelined by cramps in the second half on the warm September evening.
But Jones, who helped things go smoothly in the first half for Salina South, knew he couldn’t be a bystander after teammate Dalton Harman recovered a fumble in Derby territory with 2:42 remaining.
“I knew I couldn’t let my team down,” Jones said. “I had to get back in.”
Jones carried the ball on the Cougars’ final four offensive plays, including a 3-yard touchdown run with six seconds remaining that gave Class 5A’s top-ranked team a 41-35 victory over Derby, No. 1 in 6A.
Jones finished with 207 yards on 27 carries with three touchdowns for the Cougars, who avenged a 27-14 loss to Derby in last year’s season opener.
With senior quarterback Justin Stonebraker sidelined for most of the fourth quarter after receiving a hard hit, junior backup Dalton Wassenberg directed a seven-play, 39-yard drive for South’s game-winning points. A key third-down completion to Zach Nachbar for 17 yards on third and 11 put the Cougars in position to win.
“I told the coaches over there that this was like trying to land a 747 on the sideline without landing gear,” Salina South coach Sam Sellers said of the injuries and cramping that cost the Cougars their early momentum.
Salina South stunned the large Derby crowd by building a 28-7 lead midway through the second quarter. The Cougars, led by Stonebraker, marched 90, 66 and 72 yards for touchdowns on their first three drives.
The Cougars were particularly prolific on third down, converting 8 of 9 times for first downs in the opening half. Their first four offensive touchdowns came on third-down plays, including scoring passes of 16 and 17 yards from Stonebraker to Nachbar.
After Nachbar’s second touchdown, the Cougars seized their biggest lead when Braden Burlew scooped a Derby fumble and ran 31 yards into the end zone to make it 28-7. At that point, Derby’s lone touchdown had come on an 84-yard kickoff return by Tim Williamson.
Salina South ran 35 of the game’s first 40 offensive plays. But Derby cut its deficit to 28-14 by halftime after Jeremy Dunham hit DeAndre Goolsby on a 27-yard screen pass for a touchdown.
“That was like a prize fight. I told them at halftime the second half was going to be just like that,” Sellers said.
Salina South struck first in the second half on another third-down play. Jones took a counter handoff and raced 61 yards to make it 35-14.
But Derby, which gained 224 of its 279 yards after the break, charged back behind running back Tyler West. West scored on runs of 3, 7 and 49 yards to tie the score at 35 with 7:45 to play.
West finished with 149 yards on 25 carries.
“I think we were wearing them down,” West said. “They were starting to get tired and cramp up.”
Derby got the ball at its own 20 and moved 19 yards. But on fourth-and-1 from its own 39, Dunham and West miscommunicated on a fake handoff. The ball hit the ground and Salina South recovered with 2:42 remaining.
The Cougars, who were 10 of 14 on third-down conversions, came up huge on Wassenberg’s pass in the flat to Nachbar. The senior receiver slipped a tackle and took it to Derby’s 23. Jones took it from there, covering the remaining yards on the ground.
“The injuries were kind of killing our drive and our momentum,” Jones said. “But we didn’t give up.”
|Salina South (1-0)||14||14||7||6||—||41|
SS—Nachbar 16 pass from Stonebraker (Kraus kick)
D—Williamson 84 kickoff return (Williamson kick)
SS—Fox 3 run (Kraus kick)
SS—Nachbar 17 pass from Stonebraker (Kraus kick)
SS—Burlew 31 fumble return (Kraus kick)
D—Goolsby 27 pass from Dunham (Williamson kick)
SS—Jones 61 run (Kraus kick)
D—West 3 run (Williamson kick)
D—West 7 run (Williamson kick)
D—West 49 run (Williamson kick)
SS—Jones 3 run (kick failed)