LINDSBORG — The Smoky Valley High School football team is coming off a terrific season and has high hopes for this year. Eight wins, a district championship, and a playoff win were all highlights from a season ago.

But as great as last year was, it started off on a negative note. In last year’s season opener, Smoky Valley dropped a lopsided affair to Halstead, 36-6. This year’s Vikings had revenge on their minds.

Smoky Valley is off to a 1-0 start to the season after holding on for a nail-biting 24-22 win over Halstead Friday night in Lindsborg. The Vikings and Dragons were tied at 16 entering the fourth quarter, and the final score was decided by a two-point conversion.

Smoky Valley head coach Tim Lambert said before the season he believes this team can be even better than last year’s squad. Friday night was a great first step to validating that claim.

“I’m proud of the effort, I’m proud of the poise; this was a great high school football game,” Lambert said. “I think we are better than we were at this time a year ago, but the goal is to be better at the end of the year. I sure think we have the potential to be even better this year.”

From the very beginning Smoky Valley looked like they belonged on the same field with a Halstead team that won nine games and made the quarterfinals of the 3A state playoffs last year. Smoky Valley scored on its first possession of the season — a long, methodical drive that was capped off by a Kyle Anderson three yard touchdown run. Anderson ran the ball in from three yards out again on the ensuing play for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead.

It only took a few plays for the Dragons to respond on their next possession. Set up by a gashing run down the sideline, Halstead answered with a one-yard touchdown followed by a PAT.

The Vikings led 8-7 for the most of the first half, until Halstead ripped off another killer run for 82 yards and a score. After a missed PAT, Halstead led 13-8 with 2:23 in the half.

But the Vikings would respond.

Smoky Valley ran 67 total plays. Quarterback Brett Heitschmidt threw the ball on only nine of them. His biggest throw was a 68-yard strike to Timmy Lambert that went for a go-ahead touchdown late in the first half. Anderson gave the Vikings a three-point lead with the two-point conversion.

However, Halstead was able to put together a final drive before the half, and standout kicker Taiten Winkle drilled a 39-yard field goal with eight seconds left to tie the game at 16 heading into halftime.

Both teams went scoreless in the third quarter, but it did not take Smoky Valley long to regain the lead in the fourth.

Another run-oriented, grueling drive was finished with a one-yard Cort Elliott touchdown run with 10:41 left in the game. Timmy Lambert ran in the two-point conversion to give Smoky Valley a 24-16 lead.

The Smoky Valley defense forced a huge stop on the ensuing Halstead drive, and the offense had the ball with five minutes left, looking to put the game away. But Winkle pinned the Vikings at the two yard line with a booming punt that would be crucial to the game.

Smoky Valley was able to get some breathing room, but was forced to punt at their 20 yard line. Rain began to pour late in the fourth quarter, which may have been a factor in the ensuing seven-yard punt that gave Halstead an incredibly short field with plenty of time to work with.

With three minutes left, Halstead faced a 3rd and 10, but calmly converted on a play action pass that went 27 yards for a touchdown. Incredibly, the Smoky Valley defense was able to recover on the very next play, stuffing Halstead quarterback Dalton Kraus at the goal line to prevent what would have been the game tying two-point conversion.

Smoky Valley recovered a well-placed onside kick, and ran out the clock with a few first downs. The Vikings received huge production from their ground attack, along with a gutsy performance from the entire defense.

“We’ve got some kids that can play, and we’ve got some kids that like to play, which I think helps,” Lambert said. “Beating a program like Halstead is something we can build on.”

Heitschmidt went 7-for-9 with 127 yards and a touchdown through the air. Anderson rushed for 105 yards, rushed for a touchdown, and converted two crucial two-point conversions.

As a team, Smoky Valley out gained Halstead 127-52 yards through the air, 219-186 on the ground, and 346-238 overall.

The Vikings will look to build off this win next week when they hit the road to Larned, who lost 56-46 to Pratt in their season opener.

Contact Gallagher Martin by email at gmartin@mcphersonsentinel.com and follow him on Twitter @GMartinSentinel