Painful tears pooled in the eyes of Hutchinson’s Turner Wintz as he tried to describe what he had just experienced Friday.
And this was the winning quarterback.
“We knew what we had to do,” said Wintz, who rallied Hutchinson to a 33-31 victory over Maize at Gowans Stadium. “We knew the whole time.”
Yes, the Salthawks scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and knocked off Maize, Class 6A’s No. 3-ranked team. But in order to extend Hutch’s state playoff streak to 14 consecutive years, the Salthawks needed at least a five-point victory under the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s tiebreaker system.
Maize (7-2) denied that on running back Chase White’s 4-yard touchdown run with 10 seconds remaining. The Eagles suffered their first loss in district play, but emerged as the District 8 champions by virtue of point differential in games against Hutch, Garden City and Dodge City.
Garden City, a 41-20 winner over Dodge City on Friday, earned the second district playoff spot because of its 35-24 victory over Hutchinson last week.
“The fact of the matter is our season continues,” said White, who ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. “There’s something to look forward to.”
White’s final touchdown, which capped a 13-play, 65-yard drive, sliced the Salthawks’ nine-point lead to 33-31. With precious few seconds remaining, it produced an odd scene – jubilation on the Maize sideline and disappointment on Hutchinson’s side.
But Hutchinson (5-4), a seven-time state champion in the last nine seasons, tried to make the most of the remaining time. Levi Jackson returned Maize’s kickoff 62 yards to the Eagles’ 31 with two seconds to play. It gave Salthawks kicker Kassidy Lemons a chance at a 48-yard field goal, but his kick fell short as time expired.
“It’s one of those weird situations because we did lose a football game,” said Maize coach Gary Guzman, whose team will host Manhattan in a first-round game next Friday. “We came here to win a football game and we lost. That part of it, we weren’t able to accomplish.”
But Guzman appreciated the moxie shown by his team on its final drive. Quarterback Connor Lungwitz completed 19 of 34 passes for 238 yards in the game, but none was more important than his 11-yard connection with Kaven Jobe on a fourth-and-10 play from Maize’s 35.
“We knew on that fourth and 10, it was do or die,” Lungwitz said. “More season or end of season.”
Lungwitz, who ran for one touchdown and passed for another, completed 6 of 11 passes on Maize’s final drive. Jobe had four of his nine receptions on the march, including a 6-yard catch on the play that preceded Maize’s touchdown.
“That last drive that our kids had was unbelievable,” Guzman said. “They knew what was on the line, and they drove it right down and finished the job. They did what they had to do to put themselves in position to win the district.”
Still, Hutchinson’s victory scene couldn’t have been more subdued. There was little joy from running back Colby Turner, who ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. There was pure sadness from Wintz, who passed for 88 yards, ran for 62 and accounted for three touchdowns.
“Everybody kept their heads up the whole time, even when we were down 24-12,” said Wintz, whose voiced quivered as he spoke. “We fought through adversity and I’m really proud of these guys.”
For Hutchinson coach Randy Dreiling, knowing that his team needed to not only win, but win by a specific margin, created an odd dilemma. He second-guessed himself for a failed fourth-down attempt late in the first half, which Maize turned into a 1-yard plunge by Lungwitz and a 17-12 lead one second before halftime.
“There’s no shame in playing hard and winning,” said Dreiling, catching himself at the oddity of the statement. “It’s a really, really strange feeling.”
It was on the other side, as well. Lungwitz stood near midfield after the game, displaying a sheepish smile as he celebrated with fans and teammates.
“It’s really weird,” Lungwitz said. “I’ve never celebrated after a loss before. But we’re going to the playoffs, and that’s all that matters.”
M—Sanchez 26 FG
M—Stewart 27 pass from Lungwitz (Sanchez kick)
H—Turner 1 run (kick failed)
H—Wintz 4 run (kick failed)
M—Lungwitz 1 run (Sanchez kick)
M—White 38 run (Sanchez kick)
H—Lemons 12 pass from Wintz (Lemons kick)
H—Turner 1 run (Lemons kick)
H—Wintz 7 run (Lemons kick)
M—White 4 run (Sanchez kick)