Earlier this season, St. Mary's Colgan veteran head coach Chuck Smith said if the Panthers were to win big games, it would be due to their more experienced defensive unit. Regular season games do not come much bigger than a win-and-you're-in district finale on your home field on Senior Recognition Night. The Colgan defense made some big plays — fumble recoveries, a fumble return for touchdown, interceptions, sacks and hard-hitting tackles — leading to short fields and 41 unanswered points during a 54-12 victory in Class 3A, District 8 play Thursday night at Hutchinson Field. "The defense is the strength of our team," Smith said after the game. "I say that every week and it is and yeah, the defense played very well. Short fields make all the difference in the world." On the third play from scrimmage, Colgan strong safety Luke Marquardt intercepted a Caleb Biancarelli pass, the first Southeast turnover in their own territory. The first scoring drive was five plays, 54 yards with senior running back Drew Dawson gaining 52 yards on four carries, including a 9-yard scoring run. We'll have more on Dawson later. Southeast and Colgan exchanged long touchdown runs by their feature backs to close out the scoring in the first quarter, Ryan Rakestraw putting the Lancers on the board with a 54-yard score and Dawson answered with a 76-yard score with only 26.6 ticks remaining. On the Southeast two-point conversion run, Colgan defensive tackle Nolan Higginbotham smashed Rakestraw short of the goal. The game was never the same after the 10:56 mark of the second — Biancarelli busted Colgan up the gut for an apparent 59-yard TD run which would have drawn Southeast to no worse than behind 14-12. However, the Lancers were flagged on a holding penalty, negating the score . . . and Southeast would not score again until the 11:54 mark of the fourth. Two of the Panther short fields in the first half were set up by a Dawson fumble recovery and a Tully Yoakam interception, which No. 1 returned down to the Southeast 1, setting up a one-play scoring drive. In the second half, junior linebacker Austin Commons scooped up a bad pitch and returned it for the game's final points. Smith focused on the home-field advantage of the friendly confines of Hutch Field. "Something that made a big difference tonight was this field," Smith said. "This is the best field in the area and boy, not playing in the mud was a great thing for us and this town's really blessed to have a facility like this because it's a great atmosphere and it's a great field. Here, we get five or six inches of rain and it's a perfect night to play. What a great opportunity for us." Colgan scored seven TDs through its run game: Dawson 9, 76, 5 and 33 yards; Luke Marquardt 10, Christian Cedeno 1 and Colton Gilbert 65. Dawson enjoyed a great night on 12 carries: 185 yards and his four scores. No. 20 ran for 189 yards of forward progress but lost four yards on two negative carries. Dawson had three runs of 30-plus yards, including his 76-yard TD. Overall, the Panthers rushed for 330 yards on 31 carries, averaging over 10.5 yards per carry. "It was our best running performance all year long," Smith said. "I hope we can do that next week against Caney because Caney's going to be real physical like Southeast and real big kids. We're going to have our hands full and hopefully, we got a little confidence from tonight. We're just glad to be moving on and having a chance to play next week." Colgan finishes its regular season 7-2 overall, 6-2 in the Crawford-Neosho-Cherokee League and 2-1 in District 8. The district runner-up finish means the Panthers will make the trek to face District 7 champion Caney Valley on Tuesday, the Bullpups 8-1 this season with their only loss 21-6 to undefeated Conway Springs in Week 2. "I know Caney's going to be awful good but we're hoping that we can play with Caney and give them a good game and extend the season a little bit," Smith said. "We're real glad to be going to Caney." The Panthers' senior class: Tully Yoakam, Aaron Twarog, Luke Marquardt, Austin Kratz, Drew Dawson, Colton Gilbert, Christian Cedeno, Drew Casey, Nathan Flood, Brandon Emerson, Zach Whetzell, Riley Wood, Nolan Higginbotham and Tucker Hoffman. Southeast ends its season 4-5 overall, 3-5 CNC and 1-2 District 8 under first-year head coach Jake Lott. In a losing effort, Rakestraw ran for 155 yards on 27 carries and caught all three of the Lancers' completed passes.