No matter how much Cody McNerney and his vaunted Collegiate passing game came up with big plays, it simply wasn’t enough to offset the crunching ground game of the Holcomb Longhorns on Friday night.
And while McNerney, the gifted quarterback for the Spartans who almost single-handedly kept his team in the game, had a big night, it wasn’t enough as the host Longhorns prevailed 44-29 in a Class 4A-II quarterfinal game.
The loss ended the Spartans’ season with a 7-4 record while Holcomb (10-1), the defending champion in the division, keeps its hopes for a repeat alive.
McNerney had to go to the air, while also using his gifted legs, to keep Collegiate hanging around.
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The junior finished with 95 rushing yards on 20 carries and a touchdown while throwing for 228 yards, completing 28 of 44 passes and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
“He made things happen, but we didn’t do enough to help him out,” Collegiate coach Mike Gehrer said. “We didn’t have an answer for their running game.”
What the Spartans didn’t have an answer for was Holcomb’s Dillon Williams.
The 6-0, 222-pound senior had his own special offensive night, carrying the ball 28 times for 193 yards, scoring all four Longhorn touchdowns in the crucial second half.
Holcomb had opened the game with touchdowns on its first two possessions, scoring on a 5-yard pass from Trey Gilbert to Conner VanCleave and a 4-yard Brandon Stegman run.
Collegiate, struggling out of the gate, didn’t get on the board until early in the second quarter, as McNerney hit Colton Sorlie on an intermediate pattern, and that turned into a 38-yard catch-and-run for a score. That made it 14-7 Holcomb and that’s how it stood at halftime.
“We just needed to get some defensive stops and we did that in the second,” Gehrer said of a couple three-and-outs and a missed fourth-down attempt by the Longhorns. “But we just didn’t carry that through in the second half.”
The Spartans, despite scoring 22 points in the final 24 minutes, couldn’t find a way to slow down Williams and Gilbert, who tacked on 115 rushing yards on 12 carries to keep Collegiate’s defense off-balance.
“I knew we had to control their running game, but it’s such a difficult task,” Gehrer said. “(No.) 45 had an unbelievable night.… Then their quarterback would break lose a couple of runs. It was just tough to slow them down.”
There was, in fact, no slowing down Holcomb in the second half. The Horns scored on their first four possessions, with the first taking the most time with the most plays.
Taking the second half kickoff, Holcomb marched 68 yards in 8 plays with Williams getting the first of his four scores on a 5-yard run at the 8:32 mark.
Collegiate answered with a lengthy, 78-yard, 13-play drive that consumed 4 minutes, 19 seconds, with McNerney hitting Jake Flamini on a 6-yard strike.
But it took Holcomb only 57 seconds and three plays to answer back, Williams getting a 8-yard TD to cap a 50-yard quick score drive. That put Holcomb back up 28-14.
Collegiate got its final score at the outset of the fourth on a 5-yard delay pass over the middle from McNerney to Cooper Root and when Addison Harris booted his third PAT, it was 28-21 with 11:07 left in the game.
Then, Holcomb got the big game-changing play when Peyton Leonard, apparently stopped on the ensuing kickoff, instead reversed field and went 56 yards to the Collegiate 24 and it took Holcomb only two plays to get back on the board, this one a 23-yard run. A two-point conversion made it 36-21 with 10:10 remaining.
“That changed all the momentum,” Gehrer said. “We were right back in it, had the kickoff shut down, and then he just got away. It was a big, big play.”
Yet, the Spartans wouldn’t go away.
One more time they marched down for a score, this one another TD strike from McNerney to Root from 4-yards out, this time cutting the lead to 36-29.
The only problem, though, was the drive consumed nearly four minutes of the clock.
And then one final time, the Spartans couldn’t hold down the Longhorns offense. In four plays, they were in the end zone, with Williams scoring from the 1-yard line. The big run was a 56-yard scamper by Gilbert. With 5:04 left to play, it was 44-29.
On the final Collegiate possession, the Spartans couldn’t move the ball, with a fourth down pass falling incomplete and McNerney whistled for intentional grounding. There was 4:12 on the clock, and Holcomb was on the Spartan 24.
Eight plays later, with Gilbert taking a knee, the clock ran out and the Spartans season came to an end.
“The kids gave everything they had out there,” Gehrer said. “I couldn’t be more proud of their effort. Holcomb’s a fine, fine team. It was just a tough go out there all night.”
H — VanCleave 5 pass from Gilbert (Rodriguez kick)
H — Stegman 4 run (Rodriguez kick)
C — Sorlie 38 pass from McNerney (Harris kick)
H — Williams 5 run (kick failed)
C — Flamini 6 pass from McNerney (Harris kick)
H — Williams 8 run (Williams run)
C — Root 5 pass from McNerney (Harris kick)
H — Williams 23 run (Stegman pass from Gilbert)
C — McNerney 4 run (Flamini pass from McNerney)
H — Williams 1 run (Stegman run)
RUSHING—Collegiate: Flowers 3-2, McNerney 20-95, Hourani 1-17. Holcomb: Gilbert 12-115, Stegman 6-33, Williams 28-193.
PASSING—Collegiate: McNerney 28-44-0—228, Carder 0-1-0—0. Holcomb: Gilbert 2-6-0—22.
RECEIVING—Collegiate: Flowers 1-6, Root 7-68, Larsen 4-25, Flamini 8-57, Sorlie 6-50, Hourani 2-14. Holcomb: VanCleave 2-22.