The Lawrence Free State defense was trying everything against Hutchinson.
Stack the line. Put more players in the box. Switch up the defensive look.
But nothing stopped Blaik Middleton.
Middleton’s 356 yards rushing and six touchdowns led Hutchinson to the 42-14 victory and a 6A state championship berth.
“He’s not going to go down with the first hit,” Free State senior Joel Spain said. “You’ve got to wrap up, and it takes more than one guy to take him down. And we didn’t do that.”
For Free State coach Bob Lisher, it was about showing different defensive schemes and bringing out anything different to slow down Middleton.
“He’s got a big offensive line in front of him, but a lot of those yards were on his own,” Lisher said. “He was breaking tackles, making our guys miss.”
With shifty moves and some breakaway speed in the open field Middleton showed why he ran for more than 2,500 yards this year.
“There’s some creases there no wider than 6 inches that the guy made some big runs out of, so it wasn’t all our defense not being in position,” Lisher said. “A lot of those runs were him.”
The Firebirds stayed within striking distance for much of the first half thanks to senior running back Carson Bowen. Bowen finished the game with 98 yards rushing with two touchdowns.
Nevertheless the performance was not enough against the Salthawks.
Bowen felt the pain of a season coming to an end.
“It’s worst feeling I’ve had so far, but it was a good year,” he said. “We had a good run.”
Free State quarterback Bryce Torneden showed his mobility and passing ability against a tough Hutchinson defense. Torneden finished with 175 total yards.
Torenden and his favorite target Spain, who finished with 57 yards, could not quite connect on a few chances inside the red zone.
“We had some plays that were there, but we didn’t execute,” Lisher said. “We had a few breakdowns there, but you have to give Hutch some credit, they played us pretty well.”
After some early season struggles, Lisher was pleased with Free State’s run into the playoffs.
“A lot of people didn’t think we’d get through the district let alone the semifinals,” he said. “But it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt for a day or two, but these guys had a great season.”