The Salina Central Mustangs turned homecoming into a trip down memory lane.
Unleashing a rushing attack reminiscent of past Central powerhouse teams, the Mustangs rushed for 328 yards and four touchdowns Friday night to knock off Arkansas City, 33-27, at Salina Stadium.
It was the first victory of the season for Central, which improved to 1-4 overall, 1-3 in Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League Division II. Ark City fell to 1-4, 0-3 in the league.
"That was Salina Central of the mid- and late 90s right there," Central coach Mark Sandbo said of the Mustangs' dominating ground game. "We talk all the time about taking what they give you, and sometimes the head coach just needs to get out of their way."
After struggling early in the passing game, the Mustangs turned to the running back tandem of Micah Moore and Kenyon McMillan, who each rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Parker Kavanagh, who came in averaging 247 yards per game, threw for only 44 against Ark City, but added 70 yards on the ground.
"Our goal is 150 (yards rushing)," Moore said of the running game, which produced 148 in the first half alone on the way to a 21-7 lead at the break. "That's how we should do it.
"We've got to run the football and execute."
The Mustangs used a heavy dose of the powerful Moore in the first half as he rolled up 90 yards on 12 carries with touchdown runs of 1 yard in the first quarter and 8 in the second.
After Moore did most of the damage in the first half, the shifty McMillan took over in the second, carrying 13 times for 75 yards after the break. He also had a 23-yard run to close out the first-half scoring one play after Calvin Hemmer recovered an Ark City fumble forced by Brooks Burgoon.
"They're kind of thunder and lightning," Sandbo said of the 6-foot, 210-pound Moore, and 5-6, 155-pound McMillan. "Kenyon can really get going quickly and is deceptive with his ability to run inside, and Micah may not look like it, but he is deceptively shifty."
McMillan got his 130 yards on 19 carries and Moore his on 21 attempts. Kavanagh, who was at minus-3 in the first half, ran eight times for 73 yards after intermission.
The running game also helped keep Ark City's offense off the field, a bonus given the Bulldogs' quick-strike capability in the passing game. Quarterback Gabe Welch completed 22 of 32 passes for 295 yards to nine different receivers, led by Cadon Clark with six catches for 106 and Devon Watkins' five grabs for 74.
"Things just got rolling and I'm glad they did," McMillan said. "It was very big, keeping them off the field and giving our defense a break."
Ark City pulled within a touchdown on two different occasions in the second half, and both times the Mustangs answered with a scoring drive of their own. After the Bulldogs took the opening kickoff and went 70 yards in just over a minute — Wyatt Bahm scored on a 1-yard run — Central held the ball for the next 6:02 before Kavanagh capped the 13-play, 83-yards drive with a 9-yard strike to Ezavyar Jackson on a slant play.
"Parker was a little sporadic early, but Parker is a really accurate passer," Sandbo said of Kavanagh, who completed 5 of 9 passes. "But when we needed him to make a throw he definitely delivered.
"That slant to (Jackson) was a big throw and a nice catch."
Kavanagh's third pass of the game went the wrong way when Jonas Stoy picked it off near the Mustang 10-yard line for a touchdown that tied it at 7-7 with 9:54 left in the second quarter. But after Moore and McMillan scored to give Central a two-touchdown lead at the half, Ark City never got the ball back with a chance to get even.
The ability to close out an opponent had been a sore spot for the Mustangs through the first four games, so Sandbo was all smiles afterward.
"We say all the time that it's tough to win in the AVCTL," he said. "We're a good football team and this definitely helps."