Both Salina Central and Valley Center sent their best to try and make a play on a fourth down and 6.
Valley Center came out on top in the battle, and also the war.
The Hornets went to tight end Gabe Phillips with Central safety Jaxon Kolzow defending, and Phillips managed to get past the first-down marker with less than two minutes left to ice a 14-12 Valley Center victory Friday night at Salina Stadium.
"Coach (Austin) Kingsbury had the right call, and we were bringing our safety down," Central coach Mark Sandbo said. "We took one of our best football players in our program and said, ’Go make a play.’ They obviously felt like that was one of their best football players.
"Unfortunately, when he caught it, he snuck another half yard by to get the first down. We’re disappointed with the outcome, but there’s some good things to be proud of for sure as a coaching staff and a program."
Neither team got in an offensive flow early, combining for five punts, a fumble and a turnover on downs in the first 15 minutes.
Valley Center finally broke the drought in the second period when quarterback Kaleb Harden found Hunter Stacy for a 15-yard score.
After forcing the Mustangs to punt, Harden connected with Phillips for 31-yard touchdown with 2:38 left in the half.
Central had its chance to score before the break, but turned the ball over on downs.
The Mustangs came out more juiced after the intermission as their defense forced a three-and-out on the first possession.
Central took advantage of a short field to score on junior Parker Kavanagh’s 29-yard pass to Logan Losey with 9:49 left in third quarter.
Valley Center fumbled on its next drive, and Central cashed in. Kavanagh connected with junior Hayden Vidricksen for a 3-yard touchdown, but the Mustangs misfired on the two-point conversion.
Valley Center put together a drive in the fourth, looking to increase its lead, but the Mustang defense forced a fumble — its third fumble of the game.
Central was unable to capitalize on the turnover and punted for the fifth time, looking to it defense to get the ball back. The late fourth-down conversion sealed their fate.
"Momentum swings differently," Sandbo said. "When it swung our way in the second half, our kids were really energized.
"If we could have just done something just a little bit more and maybe put some points on the board, I think it really could have gone our way."
Sandbo was pleased with his young defense, which forced three turnovers.
"They’re seven or eight juniors out there (with) a couple of sophomores," Sandbo said. "We’re not healthy yet. That hurts us because we don’t have a lot of depth.
"When our kids are given an opportunity, whether it’s a backup or coming back from quarantine or whatever it might be, our kids are making the most out of the opportunities and that’s something to be proud of. When there’s a lot of people at the point of attack, somebody should be going after that ball, and that’s exactly what happened. Our kids gave us a shot to have the ball back."
The Mustangs had no answer for Valley Center’s Dominic Phillips who ran for 156 yards on 30 carries. Central had just 90 yards rushing on the night, led by junior Micah Moore with 85 on 12 attempts.
"This is a tough game when you can’t control the line of scrimmage," Sandbo said.
Kavanagh went 15 for 34 passing for 176 yards and two touchdowns, with Losey catching seven for 116 yards and a score.
"I think Parker did a terrific job taking what the defense gave him," Sandbo said. "We still missed some opportunities. (We) missed one of our double move routes that could’ve been a big play.
"(Losey) has been a terrific player for us this year. (It) kind of goes in spurts with who’s going to be the guy for us in our receiving corps."
Central (0-4 overall, 0-3 Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League D-II) plays host to Arkansas City for homecoming at 7 p.m. Friday at Salina Stadium.