When it absolutely had to find a way to stop Hoisington running back Hunter Hanzlick, Collegiate’s defense could not find a way to stop the play everyone knew was coming.
Hanzlick gashed the middle of Collegiate’s defense with plunges after fake hand-offs and misdirections in Hoisington’s flexbone offense, finding first downs and eating up clock even when the Spartans knew the ball was going to him.
Hanzlick carried 35 times for 25 yards, then carried Hoisington, ranked No. 4 in Class 3A, to an emotional 31-22 victory over Collegiate, the No. 1 team in 4A-Div. II.
“He’s a determined runner,” Collegiate coach Mike Gehrer said of Hanzlick. “They were winning at the point of attack. You don’t want to let him get started because when he gets started, he runs very, very hard. Our thing is we have got to stop him at the point of attack, instead of letting him get a five-yard head start. I think that was the difference in the game. They won the battle up front.”
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Returning primarily seniors from a team that coasted through last regular season undefeated, Hoisington felt like it had to make a statement with Collegiate coming to town. The Cardinals viewed the matchup as small-town, smash-mouth football against the modern, aerial attack by the kids from the big city.
And it appeared as if Collegiate would use its passing attack to bury Hoisington, as Collegiate junior quarterback Cody McNerney came up with two electrifying plays to put the Spartans up 22-8 early in the third quarter.
The first came late in the second quarter when Hoisington thought it had McNerney wrapped up for a sack and a third-and-long. Instead, McNerney wiggled free to keep the play alive, then found receiver Jad Hourani coming back to him in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown catch and a 15-8 lead.
“I heard he spun and I heard it was awesome,” Hourani said of the play. “But that’s just Cody. He can do anything pretty much.”
The next came after Hoisington committed its third turnover to begin the third quarter on a botched pitch. After taking over near midfield, the next play McNerney delivered a strike over the top of Hoisington’s secondary to Hourani once again for a 49-yard touchdown and a 22-8 lead.
Despite being out-gained by Hoisington by more than 100 yards, Collegiate’s big plays had a packed crowd in Hoisington nervous for what would come next.
“He’s going to do that, that’s just the kind of guy he is,” Gehrer said of McNerney. “He made a few great plays tonight. That’s just Cody.”
Instead of panicking, Hoisington gave its flexbone offense time to work.
With Hanzlick continuing to plow Collegiate’s defense up the middle, Cameron Davis and Rudy Gearhart were able to turn the corner on a handful of plays when Collegiate’s defense was caught leaning toward the middle. Hoisington would finish the game with 381 yards on 56 carries, including Davis going for 89 yards on 10 carries.
After falling behind 22-8, Hoisington responded with a quick, four-play drive set up by a 23-yard Hanzlick run and finished off by an 18-yard dash around end by Davis.
Hoisington nearly grabbed the lead on its next drive, but four consecutive goal-line stands by Collegiate’s defense held them out. It proved to be temporary, as Collegiate’s offense went three-and-out and then a shanked punt gave Hoisington the ball back 14 yards away from the end zone.
Two plays later, Gearhart stumbled into the end zone and the extra-point try gave Hoisington the lead back, 23-22, with 1:03 remaining in the third quarter.
Collegiate’s next drive would prove to be its last with a chance to take the lead, as it marched deep into Hoisington territory but a negative run, incomplete pass, and fumbled snap ended its hopes.
Needing the ball back, Collegiate had to stop Hoisington — and Hanzlick.
“We weren’t able to control the line of scrimmage,” Gehrer said. “They kind of dominated us up front and that’s not what we were planning on having happening. They had a different plan.”
Hoisington reeled off an 11-play drive, featuring six Hanzlick runs, that was capped by a 2-yard plunge into the end zone by Hanzlick. The two-point conversion by Tyler Specht put Collegiate in a 31-22 hole with 2:39 left.
“Hoisington is a phenomenal team,” Hourani said. “They’ve got a lot of heart. They really wanted this one.
“I’m just glad that it happened now, instead of later in the playoffs. Definitely a learning experience.”
Although McNerney finished with 170 passing yards on 16 completions, as Hourani finished with five catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns, Collegiate mustered 82 yards on 27 carries.
Hoisington’s seniors were looking for a signature win like this and Hanzlick was more than happy to deliver a win for the “small-town kids.”
“They’re a really good team, so we need to beat teams like that if we want to go far in the playoffs,” Hanzlick said. “The coaches kind of put it on us this week to represent our hometown and I thought we did.”
H–Specht 3 run (Specht run)
C–Flowers 4 run (Harris kick)
C–Hourani 17 pass from McNerney (Larsen pass from McNerney)
C–Hourani 49 pass from McNerney (Harris kick)
H–Davis 18 run (Davis run)
H–Gearhart 11 run (Carpio kick)
H–Hanzlick 2 run (Specht run)
Rushing — Collegiate, McNerney 16-57, Flowers 7-15, Carder 4-10; Hoisington, Hanzlick 35-251, Davis 10-89, Gearhart 3-29, Specht 8-12.
Passing — Collegiate, McNerney 16-28-1-170; Hoisington, Specht 2-4-1-14, Hanzlick 1-1-0-18, Donovan 1-1-0-2.
Receiving — Collegiate, Hourani 5-105, Larsen 3-19, Flamini 3-12, Root 2-21, Carder 2-14, Flowers 1-(-1); Hoisington, Gearhart 2-22, Lang 1-10, Pedigo 1-2.