SALINA, Kan. — Points may keep the fans happy, but the adage says defense wins championships.
By PAUL K. MOGENSON
Special to The Star
Saturday afternoon, Holton’s Wildcats proved that as they rang up their fourth shutout of the year, blanking Eudora 21-0 to claim the Class 4A state championship at Salina Stadium and complete a perfect season at 14-0.
So potent was the Holton defense that the Wildcats limited Eudora to a mere 135 yards of total offense — 41 of which came on broken play scramble by Cardinals quarterback Andrew Ballock late in the final quarter with his team down three scores.
“We knew we had to take away their fullback and contain their quarterback on the side,” said Holton coach Brooks Barta, who notched his third state title with the Wildcats. “Our kids bought in to preparing well. I think they looked prepared, and they played prepared defensively.”
Said Eudora coach Gregg Webb: “Their front was good, really good, and that allowed their linebackers to scrape and play better than I thought they would. Their front five were pretty good, and their backside linebacker (Lane Lassiter) made a lot of plays because we couldn’t cut him off.”
Holton’s defense staved off Eudora’s initial thrust after Garrett Elston recovered a botched pitch at the Cardinals’ 40-yard line just two minutes into the game.
The Cardinals reached the Wildcats’ 15, but on fourth and 2, Holton linebacker Trent Tanking caught Ballock on the blitz for an 8-yard loss to turn the ball over.
As the first half was winding down, the game evolved into a sequence of three-and-outs for both teams. As the clock rolled under 5 minutes, Eudora was at midfield and Webb decided to roll the dice.
Facing a fourth and 2, Gabriel Cleveland was stuffed at the line of scrimmage and the gamble failed.
Getting the ball back at the 50, Holton came to life and put together a seven-play drive for a score.
Later in the half, quarterback Jaxon Wright was perfect on the option pitch to Chase Wilson, and he took it the final 9 yards to the end zone, 2:16 before intermission to make it 7-0.
Barta wasn’t surprised by Webb’s decision at midfield.
“That’s what they do,” Barta said. “They play great defense and they believed in their defense. We’ve probably done the same thing four to six times in the last four years. It’s high school football.
“It was a pivotal play, and we had a couple of guys step forward and make great plays.”
Webb, whose team made it to the title game for the second straight year only to be shut out again and finish 12-2, said afterward, “I second-guess every play I call. I really thought we had a good play called there.”
Taking the ball to start the third quarter, Eudora was quickly in a hole again as another sack moved the Cardinals back to the 12 on fourth down.
A 27-yard punt into a stiff south wind set Holton up at the 39, and on second and 7 from the 36, Wright found a lane to his left and kept the ball all the way for a touchdown with the clock showing 9:42.
With the wind gusting up to 35 mph, Barta ended up spending a couple of timeouts late to force yet another Eudora punt into it.
Starting at their own 43, Holton began gouging out chunks of turf for a first-and-10 at the 35.
From there, Lassiter broke back against the grain on a fullback counter and took it to the house for the final score of the game with 10:41 left to play.
“I think this is the most determined football team and most committed to every day getting better, and it’s probably the best defensive team we’ve had,” Barta said.
“I had a good feeling about them (winning a state title) because of the leadership. The underclassmen stepped forward and bought in. They just enjoy each other, and that’s the kind of group it is.”