The AHS marching band was playing the school fight song as they left the field and the stadium speakers were blasting Toby Keith’s Should’ve Been A Cowboy at the conclusion of the Abilene Cowboys 34-20 victory over Clay Center Friday.
It was the first win of the season for the Cowboys (1-2) and sent the Clay Center Tigers home with their first loss of the season (2-1). The Cowboys opened the North Central Kansas League play 1-0.
“Finally got one,” Abilene Coach Jeff Geist said. “Finally a few breaks went our way. We haven’t had any of those the first couple of weeks, so it nice to get this one.”
Abilene got off to a great start in the game on its first possession of the first quarter as quarterback Harley Hazlett hit a streaking Jesse Patrick down the right sideline for a 40-yard touchdown pass. The point after attempt failed and the Cowboys led 6-0 at the 7:39 mark of the quarter.
Hazlett complteted 10-of-19 for 215 yards and two touchdowns on the night.
Two possession exchange later, Clay Center running back Baylee Easterberg took a second down- and- eight handoff from the Cowboy 30 - yard line around left end and down the side line to tie the game at 6-6. Easterberg kicked the extra point and the Tigers led by one 7-6.
“Our team played better defense tonight except they scored a touchdown run and we flat out didn’t tackle very well,” coach Geist said.
Following the kickoff, the Tigers held the Cowboys deep in their own territory. Following a couple of Abilene penalties, the Cowboys found themselves in trouble after a fumble at their 4- yard line was recovered by the Tigers as time ran out in the first period.
It took Easterberg two running attempts before scoring another Tiger touchdown only seconds into the second quarter. The point after missed and Clay Center led 13-6 early in the second period.
Following the Tiger kickoff, the Cowboys ran off eight plays to drive the ball to the Tiger 5-yard line.
Sophomore Trey Bender had a good series with back-to-back rushes of 22 yards and another for six in the drive. Hazlett hit Dalton Goodwin with an 18-yard pass to move the ball to the Tiger 5 yard line.
“I think Bender and Hirsch did a good job at the running back position I was pleased with them.” Geist said.
Bender led the Cowboys in rushing on the night with 79 yards on nine carries. Hirsch had 62 yards on eight attempts.
Two Cowboy rushing plays later, Hazlett called his own number and pushed in from the 3-yard line and following Keil Kelly’s kick the score was tied 13-13 with 8:33 left in the first half.
Kelly had two catches for 46 yards and a score and Patrick led the team with 4 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
On the very next series, Clay Center’s leading rusher coming into the game. Quarterback Kody Gregory took a third-and-three at their own 42-yard line and dashed 58 yards for a Tiger touchdown. Following Easterberg’s kick the score was 20-13 Clay Center with a little over six minutes to play in the second period.
The teams exchanged possessions until the 2:39 mark of the period. Hazlett led a passing attack from their own 32-yard line. He hit Kelly on an 11-yard curl in pattern followed by a seven yard reception by Patrick and after a huge pass interference penalty against Clay Center. On second-and-12 from the Tiger 37- yard line, Hazlett lobed a pass into the end zone that Kelly jumped for, tipped and caught it on his way down for the Cowboy touchdown. Kelly kicked the extra point to tie the game at half 20-20.
“I thought it was going to be incomplete,” Hazlett said. “When I saw he tipped it and caught it, I was so happy. I just ran down there to thank him.”
“I saw it floating into me. I jumped and hoped that I could get it,” Kelly said.
It was all Cowboys in the second half as the defense stiffened and didn’t allow the Tigers into the end zone in final 24 minutes.
Patrick had 11 tackles on the night to lead the Cowboy defense and Koop added 10.
Hazlett hit Killian Millner for a 24 - yard pass with 10:49 left in the third quarter. Following a Cowboy timeout, Hazlett then tossed a 5-yard pass to Hayden Funston to make it second-and five.
Bender rushed for nine yards to the Clay Center 6-yard line and Reggie Koop carried the ball to the one before Hazlett snuck into the end zone for a Cowboy touchdown. Kelly’s kick was good and the home team led 27-20 with 9:15 to play in the third.
The Cowboys ran the ball for the remainder of the third period as Brent Hirsch carried for 24 yards and following a tipped pass caught by Zach Barbieri for 11 yards. The following pass was intercepted and the Tigers ran the ball for three first downs to end the third quarter.
“We had some big catches, Keil made an unbelievable catch in the end zone and Barbieri came up with a deflection catch,” Geist said.
The fourth quarter began with the Tigers having a second-and 12 at their own 30 -yard line. They were able to complete one first down drive before penalties pushed them backwards forcing them to punt on their only possession of the quarter.
The Cowboys controlled the clock and the ball for the remainder of the game and Hazlett hit Patrick on a 38-yard pass with 4:24 left in the game from the Tigers 19 yard line.
Blake Anguiano carried the ball five times for 16 yards, the last for a 1 yard score, following a Bender 3-yard gain with 54.8 seconds left on the game clock. Kelly’s kick was good.
The game ended after a Carson Sherbert pass interception on Clay Center’s first possession as time ran out with a Cowboy celebration 34-20.
“I think a lot of kids did a lot of good things and that gave them some confidence going into next week against Concordia,” Geist concluded.
Clay Center (2-1) 7 13 0 0 - 20
Abilene (1-2) 6 17 7 7 - 34
A – Patrick 40 yard pass from Hazlett (kick failed)
CC – Easterberg 30 yard run (Easterberg kick)
CC – Easterberg 3 yd run (kick failed)
A – Hazlett 2 yd run (Kelly kick)
CC – Gregory 58 run (Easterberg kick)
A – Kelly 37 yd pass from Hazlett (Kelly kick)
A – Hazlett 1 yd run (Kelly kick)
A – Anguiano 1 yd run (Kelly kick)