DERBY – One yard was all Derby needed in order to give itself a chance to tie the score with Hutchinson in the game’s final two minutes Friday night. One yard to keep its hopes alive to defend its Class 6A title.
But Hutchinson’s defense swallowed up running back Curtis Whitten, advancing to the semifinals with a 35-28 win. Hutchinson (7-4) will play at Lawrence Free State (8-3) next Friday.
“It came down to one play, and we talked all week about how it would come down to three plays, and that was one of the three plays right there,” Derby junior receiver Garrett Xanders said.
Derby senior Chase Branstetter added: “It’s more than that one play. We had all the opportunities to (win).”
While it was a disappointing finish for Derby (9-2), which had won nine straight games after a season-opening loss at Maize, Hutchinson continued its roll after starting the season 2-4.
“This is a really big game,” Hutchinson quarterback Turner Wintz said. “We kept the momentum going for the last four, five games. I don’t even know.”
The change, Wintz believes, came in a loss to Derby when Hutchinson’s made a fourth-quarter comeback to nearly win.
“We got a lot out of that, and we figured we can play with anybody in the state,” Wintz said. “We kept getting better from that.”
Derby had its chances against Hutchinson.
Three times, Hutchinson stopped the Panthers inside the Hutchinson 10.
“We haven’t been able to get people off the field,” Hutchinson first-year coach Ryan Cornelsen said. “The difference tonight was we got a few stops.”
After Hutchinson went 66 yards on three plays to score on a Blaik Middleton 49-yard run on the game’s first series, Derby drove to the Hutch seven and turned it over on downs.
Down 35-21, Derby drove to the Hutchinson 5 to open the third quarter, but Salthawks senior Ryan Stoecklein intercepted Derby quarterback Brady Rust.
And then, after Derby forced a fumble and started its second drive of the second half at the Hutchinson 30, the Panthers drove to the 2 and failed to score on fourth-and-goal.
“That was a big emphasis this week was goal-line,” Derby coach Brandon Clark said. “Execution, play calls, could have been either one. Good team right there. Not like we were trying to score on nobody.”
Scoring on one of those three trips inside the Hutchinson 10 could have changed the course of the game.
But there were other plays. Such as when Hutchinson took a 35-21 lead as time ran out in the first half when Wintz threw to Stoecklein for a 27-yard score.
Hutchinson scored on five of its six first-half possessions, with Middleton rushing for 144 first-half yards with touchdown runs of 49, 22 and 32. He finished with 170 rushing yards, while Wintz had 19 carries for 158.
Another key play came in the final six minutes.
Whitten had scored on a 1-yard run with 6:06 to go to get within 35-21, one play after he had caught a 50-yard pass from Rust.
Derby attempted an onside kick and appeared to recover the ball. But the officials ruled that Derby had touched the ball at the 49, a yard too soon.
“We always talk to our kids that there’s three plays in a game that can win a ballgame against good teams,” Clark said. “Those three plays are probably on Hutch’s side this game. They made the most of those plays.”
Hutchinson’s offense racked up 348 yards in the first half. Derby made some adjustments at the half, holding the Salthawks to 101 second-half yards.
“They did a better job at the half than we did,” Cornelsen said. “Because the second half we couldn’t get the yards we had in the first half. I couldn’t find exactly what they were doing to make the adjustment.”
Hutchinson handled Derby’s running game — the Panthers had minus-nine rushing yards in the second half. Rust answered by throwing for 176 second-half yards and finish with 234 on 13-of-19 passing.
As for that last Derby offensive play, Clark took the blame.
“I probably should have called something else,” Clark said. “We had some other things we could have called. They blitzed right into it. They made a great call on their part.”
H — Middleton 49 rush (Culley kick)
H — Middleton 22 rush (Culley kick)
D — Tabor 19 pass from Rust (Moeder kick)
H — Hardenberger 7 run (Culley kick)
D — Rust 6 run (Moeder kick)
H — Middleton 32 run (Culley kick)
D — Rust 42 run (Moeder kick)
H — Stoecklein 27 pass from Wintz (Culley kick)
D — Whitten 1 run (Moeder kick)
Rushing — Hutchinson, Middleton 21-170, Wintz 19-158, Hardenberger 15-56. Derby, Rust 17-73, Whitten 17-65.
Passing — Hutchinson, Wintz 2-4-66-0. Derby, Rust 13-19-234-1.
Receiving — Hutchinson, Stoecklein 2-66. Derby, Xanders 5-101, Whitten 1-50, Kelley 4-45, Tabor 2-32, Lemons 1-6.