By Matt Newbery
Globe Sports Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
The St. Mary’s-Colgan Panthers took advantage of eight interceptions thrown by the Humboldt Cubs, including four in the first half, as they claimed a 63-28 victory in the regional round of the Kansas Class 3A football playoffs Saturday night at Hutchinson Field.
The Panthers (8-3) will take on Rossville in the sectional round Friday night on the road.
Humboldt senior quarterback Nathan Whitcomb was 34-of-61 through the air for 467 yards and three touchdowns, but Colgan was ready for that and tried to keep the action in front of the defense.
“(Our game plan) was not to give up the big play,” head coach Chuck Smith said. “The kids hung in there and we made some big plays ourselves.
“When you intercept eight passes, you give your offense a lot of opportunities. Our offense did real well.”
Smith maybe made the understatement of the year. SMC turned four interceptions in the final 16 minutes of the first half into points, with the offense converting on three of them, to break open a 14-14 game.
The Panthers had 588 yards of total offense on the night, 392 in the first two quarters. Senior Dyson Dechant was 9-of-15 for 281 yards with four TDs and one interception. He had 183 yards on 6-of-8 in the first half, as he took advantage of Humboldt keying on the SMC rushing attack.
Junior Colton Gilbert had the first Panther pick with 53 seconds left in the first quarter. He cashed it in five plays later on a wingback reverse with 10:47 to go, with junior Aaron Twarog adding the point-after kick.
Twarog was a perfect 9-of-9 on extra points for the night.
The Cubs gave it right back to the Panthers on the first play of the ensuing drive, as Whitcomb was intercepted by junior Drew Dawson, who had two picks on the night. Five plays later, junior fullback Christian Cedeno caught a 9-yard pass from Dechant to make it a 14-point Panthers lead at the 8:17 mark.
Four plays into the Cubs’ next series, junior Tanner Hoffman stepped in front of a Whitcomb pass at the SMC 16, and took it the distance for his second touchdown of the game (he caught a 70-yard pass from Dechant in the first quarter) with 6:42 remaining until halftime.
Humboldt made it to the Panthers’ 30-yard line with less than four minutes to go when junior Luke Marquardt made his first of two interceptions on the night at the 22, and took it 14 yards.
A personal foul call against the Cubs at the end of the return put SMC at the Humboldt 49, where Conner Dayton scored the first of his two rushing TDs on the next play to give the Panthers a 42-14 lead with the clock showing 3:32 to go in the second stanza.
Humboldt had trouble fielding the ensuing pooch kickoff by sophomore Ian Duncan, and SMC fell on the loose ball at the Cubs’ 48. After three straight runs by Dayton to get down to the Humboldt 28, Cedeno scored on a 28-yard run with 1:42 to go to make it a 49-14 score.
Dayton (156 yards on 13 carries) and Cedeno (131 on 13 carries) each reached triple-figures in rushing. Cedeno had four TDs on the night – two on runs and two on receptions, while Dayton cashed in on a pair of runs.
Whitcomb was not deterred and hoped to give his squad some momentum heading to halftime. He completed his final four passes of the first half, connecting with his mammoth 6-foot-6 wide out Noah Thornbrugh for the last 28 yards of the drive to snap SMC’s run of 35 straight points. The senior scored with 48.8 seconds left to make it a 49-21 halftime score.
Whitcomb was 21-of-31 in the first half for 267 yards and two scores. Humboldt finished the night with 502 yards of total offense.
“At halftime, we didn’t feel real comfortable,” Smith said. “We felt like they could score quick and then get an onside kick or something. Not only that, but we were getting beat up a little bit – we had a lot of kids on the sidelines and couldn’t afford to get anyone else hurt in the second half.”
Among those dinged up for SMC were starting wide receiver Nate Grimaldi, who caught the first TD pass of the night, and Hoffman. Neither returned to action after being injured in a very physical game.