LINDSBORG — Even as they kept Holcomb under wraps early, the Smoky Valley Vikings had a problem.
The Longhorns' defense refused to budge.
No. 2-ranked Holcomb made enough plays to build a 20-point halftime advantage while limiting No. 3 Smoky Valley to 32 total yards before the break and that was all the Longhorns needed as they rolled to a 26-6 Class 4A II quarterfinal victory Friday night at Anderson Stadium.
"They're good," Smoky Valley coach Tim Lambert said of Holcomb, which improved to 10-1 and will play host to unbeaten Scott City next Friday in the semifinals. "They're tough to run against, they're tough to pass against and they're tough to stop."
Holcomb rode a balanced offense to a 20-0 halftime lead, extending its first two scoring drives with key fourth-down conversions. Senior quarterback Trey Gilbert completed 14 of 18 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns, plus rushed for a team-high 47.
"We had a good game plan against them," Gilbert said. "Our offensive line did a great job giving me time to throw and our wide receivers did a good job getting open."
After a holding penalty stalled their first possession at midfield, the Longhorns drove 61 yards on their second series to take the lead on Gilbert's 6-yard touchdown strike to Chance Rodriguez. The key play was a 10-yard completion to AJ Ortega on fourth down to the Smoky Valley 18.
"A big play of the game was that fourth down they made on the sideline," said Lambert, whose Vikings finished with a 9-2 record. "We had good (defensive) position but the kid just made a good play.
"But we had a hard time moving the ball, too."
Holcomb used a short field and another timely conversion to double the lead with nine minutes left in the half on Reece Morss' 10-yard touchdown run, capping a five-play, 42-yard drive. The score was set up by Gilbert's 26-yard completion to Rodriguez on fourth down from the 36.
"Those were huge," Holcomb coach Kent Teeter said of the fourth-down plays. "We just dialed up a couple of different pass plays and the kids executed.
"Going up two scores was big and 20-0 was even bigger because we kept missing our (extra points)."
An interception by Carter Blackburn set up the final Longhorn score of the half, a 24-yard strike from Gilbert to Andrew Morss with 2:53 left.
"We knew our defense had to play really well against their running game," Teeter said of Smoky's wishbone-based offense. "We kept stressing getting off blocks and the defense really stepped up."
Smoky Valley had just 32 yards on the ground in the first half and finished with 150 to go with 4 passing yards. Holcomb, meanwhile, got 181 yards through the air — Rodriguez had six catches for 89 yards and Andrew Morss four for 56 — and ran for 137.
Holcomb took advantage of another short field to start the second half when Peyton Leonard returned the opening kickoff 35 yards to the Smoky Valley 44. From there it took the Longhorns just six plays before Reece Morss found the end zone from 4 yards out.
Holcomb also made two big defensive stands in the third quarter, first stopping Smoky on fourth down at the 1-yard line. Then, after Lane Schrag's interception gave the Vikings the ball back at the Longhorn 19, they held again on fourth down at the 8.
"Our defense has played well all year," Teeter said.
Smoky Valley finally found the end zone with 2:42 left in the game after recovering a Holcomb fumble and driving 56 yards in nine plays with Kyle Anderson scoring from 1 yard out on fourth down.
Anderson led Smoky Valley with 60 yards on 18 carries, while quarterback Brett Heitschmidt had 49 yards on six carries. The Vikings completed just 1 of 9 passes.
Even though their season ended in the quarterfinals for a second straight year, the program continued to progress in Lambert's eyes.
"We were better this year," he said. "We took another step, and next year we'll see what happens."
For Holcomb, the victory means a rematch with Scott City, which beat the Longhorns 23-14 in the second week of the regular season. Scott City got by Clay Center on Friday, 21-13.