BUHLER — When Buhler junior Tanner Fisher has the football, he's graceful. He can stutter-step and then burst past the defensive line for a big gain. But he's also incredibly tough, with the ability to run over opponents, spin out of tackles or carry several defenders trying to bring him down.
Fisher was brilliant Saturday night against Abilene, as he racked up 340 rushing yards on 41 carries in Buhler's 39-7 victory in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs. Fisher had five touchdowns, four in the second half for Buhler (11-0), which plays at Topeka Hayden (10-1) on Friday.
But the run of the night belonged to Buhler sophomore Bryce Worley, a 6-foot, 265-pound center/defensive tackle. He intercepted a Nick Rice pass early in the third quarter and rumbled 45 yards to the Abilene 22.
"They call me the screen buster," Worley said. "I saw the running back turn around, I read the quarterback's eyes, I knew he was throwing it. I picked it. I started running, halfway through, my leg cramped.... The first thing that came into my mind was, 'don't fumble, don't fumble.' "
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Worley's interception return was a much-needed spark for Buhler, which dominated in the first half offensively and defensively, but still trailed 7-6 at the break.
Buhler held Abilene (10-1) to minus-11 rushing yards in the first half and had two interceptions. Abilene's lone score followed an 86-yard kickoff return by Kane Kelly to the Buhler four when Rice hit Casey Sexton in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the two.
In the first half the Crusaders hurt themselves at key times. They had a 13-play drive end with a blocked field goal, then, JP Lohrentz intercepted Rice and returned it 45 yards for a score. The touchdown, though, was nullified because Buhler was penalized for a block in the back on the return.
"We shot ourselves in the foot way too many times," Buhler coach Steve Warner said. "With the penalties, the ball on the ground — not necessarily losing it, but the ball on the ground... we have to take care of it."
Buhler's second half wasn't perfect, but it was much better.
Fisher opened the third quarter with a 33-yard carry. And while he had a five-yard touchdown called back on the drive due to a block in the back, he scored two plays later for the 12-7 lead, capping a five-play drive of 70 yards during which he had every carry.
Four plays after Worley's interception, Fisher bulled through the defense for an 11-yard score.
"Numerous times he should have been tackled for a five-yard loss, and he got a 15-yard gain," Warner said. "He's strong, he's fast."
While Fisher was impressive, he credited his line. And so did Abilene coach Jeff Geist.
"The offensive line did an amazing job in the second half," Fisher said, "and they let me run all over the place."
Geist added: "Their line is, without a doubt, the best we've seen. The line of scrimmage, they owned it."
Abilene (10-1) 7 0 0 0 — 7 Buhler (11-0) 6 0 26 7 — 39
B—Fisher 1 run (run failed)
A—Sexton 2 pass from Rice (Strauss kick)
B—Fisher 9 run (run fail)
B—Fisher 11 run (Heide kick)
B—Stiles 9 run (Heide kick)
B—Fisher 8 run (miss kick)
B—Fisher 12 run (Heide kick)
Rushing—Abilene, Ward 9-13, McDonald 1-0, Rice 3-(-27). Buhler, Fisher 41-340, Shantz 10-57, Stiles 11-46, Allen 4-12, Berblinger 4-10.
Passing—Abilene, Rice 11-31-111-4. Buhler, Shantz 3-12-22-1.
Receiving—Abilene, Polk 5-83, Kelly 2-27, Sexton 2-10, Ward 1-(-4), Straus 1-(-5). Buhler, Fisher 2-16, Lohrentz 1-6.