Zach Esau had to make a quick decision as he took the snap and extended the ball to tailback Parker Roth. He could give it to his tailback, pull the ball back and run it himself, or throw over the middle to Zach Vogt on a slant route.
Esau faced that situation several times Friday night and his best decisions resulted in finding Vogt, who caught eight passes for 156 yards to lead Hesston to a 35-19 Class 3A semifinal win over previously undefeated Hoisington and seal a trip to next Saturday’s championship game.
“We expected their linebacker to be split out on me and (fellow wide receiver Cameron) Cox,” Vogt said. “Zach (Esau) had the option to read it, and it was there all night.”
Hesston (10-3) scored on 5 of 7 possessions and wasted little time marching down the field. On scoring drives of 82, 43, 67, 68 and 38 yards, only one took longer than three minutes.
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Hesston coach Clint Rider was quick to point out that his team didn’t punt a single time. Esau was too busy completing 13 of 17 passes for 227 yards on a night when his offense could do no wrong.
Roth gained 54 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, but the most effective play – Esau’s quick passes over the middle to Vogt – never failed to gain yardage and was the go-to call for third- and fourth-down conversions most of the night.
“It’s been in the playbook for a couple of years,” Rider said. “The Zach combo (Zach Esau to Zach Vogt) runs it better than anyone I’ve seen.”
Hesston’s defense held Hoisington (12-1) to three-and-out and a punt on the game’s first possession before Hesston’s offense needed 1 minute, 47 seconds to cover 82 yards in eight plays to take a 7-0 lead.
The Hesston defense again stopped Hoisington, this time on fourth-and-2 on its own 44 to set up a five-play scoring drive for a 14-0 Hesston lead nine minutes into the game.
Hoisington finally answered on its next possession with a 10-play, 61-yard scoring drive covered exclusively with the run. Junior tailback Sean Urban rushed for 169 yards on 35 carries, but was kept out of the end zone.
Though Hoisington’s ground game was effective, it wasn’t able to produce the quick-scoring comeback that was needed after falling behind by 16 points in the second half. The passing game, which could have moved the ball without draining the game clock, failed as quarterback Tyler Specht completed 2 of 6 passes for 19 yards.
Hesston sealed the win by stopping a Hoisington fourth-quarter drive on a sack and fumble recovery inside the 20-yard line.
Hesston’s fans poured onto the field and the players gathered for a quick postgame meeting, where Rider, thinking about next week’s state championship game — showed a side of happiness and honesty.
“I’ve never done this before,” he told his players. “So I don’t know what to expect.”
Hesston, which lost three of its first four games to start the season, has rattled off nine consecutive wins and will play Rossville (12-1) in the title game.
He – Roth 4 run (Whitsitt kick)
He – Nebel 30 pass from Esau (Whitsitt kick)
Ho – Specht 10 run (Carpio kick)
He – Roth 8 run (Whitsitt kick)
Ho – Specht 1 run (kick failed)
He – Esau 5 run (Whitsitt kick)
Ho – Davis 3 run (conversion failed)
He – Esau 2 run (Whitsitt kick)
Rushing — Hoisington: Davis 13-66, Urban 35-169, Curtis 4-24, Pedigo 1-9, Specht 14-50. Hesston: Roth 13-54, Esau 12-47.
Passing — Hoisington: Specht 2-6-19. Hesston: Esau 13-17-227.
Receiving — Hoisington: Davis 1-16, Curtis 1-3. Hesston: Vogt 8-156, Cox 2-25, Bachman 1-8, Nebel 2-38.