By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
GIRARD, Kan. —
The Girard Trojans did not veer away from the script Tuesday night that led to their CNC League and district titles in the regular season.
They won the fight at the line of scrimmage, took care of the ball and went in for the finish when their opponent wavered in the second half.
It all added up to a 34-7 win over the Columbus Titans in the opening round of the Kansas Class 4A state playoffs at Frank Jameson Field
It was the first playoff win for Girard since 2006, when the Trojans lost in the state semifinals to Paola.
“This was huge for us,” Girard senior offensive and defensive lineman Jalen Merrell said. “We’ve been working for the playoffs all season and this just brings us closer together as a brotherhood.”
Girard (9-1) faces Chanute in the second round on Saturday. Columbus finishes the season at 4-6.
Girard recovered a Titan fumble at its 4-yard line early in the second quarter and then stopped the Titans on second-and-goal from the 1 on the final play of the half to take a 20-7 lead into the locker room.
“That first half, we’re up a point if it’s not for five yards. That’s what it boils down to,” Columbus coach Dan Grundy said. “Our kids played hard. We’re really, really young in the skill positions and we learned some things.”
The teams then traded six straight scoreless possessions to open the second half before Girard began to take over.
After six straight rushes — five from junior Caleb Egbert — quarterback Brayden Johnson executed a perfect play-action and hit a wide open Trenton Stolte for a 60-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in the third quarter.
Johnson and Stolte also hooked up for a first-half touchdown, a 24-yard strike that broke a 7-7 tie.
“We felt like we had them starting to creep up, especially on that second one,” Girard head coach Leon Miller said. “They were really loading the box and we were able to sneak one on them.”
Girard forced a punt and then went back to the running game and Egbert.
Egbert rushed six times in the eight-play drive, including the 4-yard touchdown run that gave the Trojans their 34-7 lead.
Egbert finished with 75 yards on 15 carries, second only to Johnson’s 79 yards. The Trojans had 263 yards on 54 rushes.
“When we came out in the second half and dominated the line, it kind of gave us that edge,” Merrell said. “They got down and we just put the foot down, kept driving on them and finished.”
Johnson had a solid night. He completed three of his five passes for 102 yards — all to Stolte — while unleashing a 77-yard circus touchdown run on an option read that saw him walk the sideline like a tight rope and put a highlight reel-worthy juke on a Titan defender near the 10-yard line.
“I saw the lane to the left and cut back and it was kind of a foot race,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it but I ended up cutting back. He was catching me and I just cut back.
“And I don’t know how I stayed inbounds.”
Columbus was solid on the ground, rushing for 225 yards on 35 carries, an average of 6.4 yards per run. Taylor Watkins rushed for 69 yards on four carries, including a 66-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7. Sophomore quarterback Nate Bole had 59 yards on the ground.
But three first-half turnovers were too much to overcome.
The Titans fumbled on their first play from scrimmage after forcing Girard into a three-and-out to open the game, fumbled at the Girard 4 and threw an interception.
“We didn’t get those points in the first half and I think our kids started getting overwhelmed, feeling the pressure to score,” Grundy said. “Mentally, I think we kind of started fading out and that hurt.”