By MIKE COURSON
Great Bend Post
In 2019, the Hoisington High School football team was unbeaten before a last-second loss in the sub-state round at Norton. In 2020, the Cards took a 12-0 record into the state championship game where they fell 27-20 to Rossville. Hoisington fans are hoping the third time is a charm. With a 30-21 win at Norton Friday night, the Cardinals will take a 12-0 record into next Saturday's Class 2A State Championship game against reigning champion and unbeaten Nemaha Central.
Four years ago, the Cards were an offensive juggernaut all season, including a 38-7 win against Norton during the regular season. That changed on a cold, snowy substate night when the Bluejays prevailed 10-8. History tried to rear its head Friday night as Norton led 7-0 in the final 30 seconds of the first half before Jason Robinson picked off an Eli Jones pass and returned it 78 yards to the house as the first-half expired. The teams hit the half tied 7-7.
That momentum carried over into the third quarter. Junior Brady Reif laid the boom on the Norton kick returner, and the Cardinal defense forced a quick punt. The Cards marched 58 yards down field before Tony Moore found Robinson in the end zone on a 12-yard strike to pull ahead 14-7.
"I think we flipped a switch," said Moore. "Our O-line was struggling. I was struggling. I wasn't anywhere I needed to be. I had to look at myself in the mirror and ask myself if I'm really doing everything I can. The very first play, Brady (Reif) smacked someone on the kickoff. That sets the tone. That gets everyone juiced. The offense just started clicking. We started finding gaps."
Norton used a 65-yard completion a few plays later to even the score at 14 with 3:36 to play in the third. Hoisington came up with its own quick answer via a 3-yard touchdown pass from Moore to Mason Alderdice on the final play of the third quarter.
The Bluejays converted big third downs all night, including two on their next drive to tied the game at 21 with 7:09 remaining. The Cards needed just three plays to score again, including a 32-yard run from Moore, and a 23-yard touchdown run from Teron Kraft. Sophomore Taylen Morales had made his first three point-after tries but missed the fourth to keep the door open for more Norton heroics.
Alderdice put a stop to that by picking off a Jones pass with 6:02 on the clock. The Cardinals were able to erase nearly five minutes and survived a fumble but could not punch it in. With 1:19 left, Morales did not miss an opportunity to redeem himself, booting through a 20-yard field goal to all but secure the win at 30-21. Norton put together a drive before Kraft and CJ Bryant teamed up for a sack that helped run out the clock.
Jones entered the game with more than 2,000 passing yards and nearly 800 rushing yards. He threw for 249 yards on 18-of-31 passing with two interceptions and a touchdown. He also led the Bluejay ground attack with 86 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Norton ends its season at 11-1.
Moore struggled to complete just two passes for 24 yards in the first half, and the Cards managed just 59 rushing yards in the first two quarters. Moore completed all six throws in the second half to finish with 84 yards on 8-of-16 passing. He added 165 yards on 20 carries. Kraft added 45 yards on his 12 attempts. Robinson led the receivers with 46 yards and a touchdown on three receptions.
Hoisington moves to 12-0 and for a third-straight week, will face an unbeaten in the state championship game scheduled for 1 p.m. next Saturday at Salina's USD 305 District Stadium outside Salina Central High School.
"They were two powerhouses," Moore of the last two opponents. "Southeast of Saline has incredible talent and Norton has incredible size. I think we really persevered these last two weeks. We're not the biggest group but we've shown we have the biggest heart."