PITTSBURG — It took exactly one play from scrimmage for Pittsburg football (3-2) to gain a lead it would never relinquish in a 52-0 rout against Andover Central (0-5) in Friday’s matchup at Hutchinson Field.
PHS running back Jhalani Long took his first carry, a pitch to the right on the first play from scrimmage, 67 yards for a touchdown to give Pittsburg a 7-0 outright lead. Long — who had four total touchdowns in the contest — added two more rushing scores in the first quarter, and the Purple Dragon defense shut down the Jaguar offense all game long to send PHS home with the win.
“That first quarter was probably the most-complete quarter of football we’ve played this season,” Pittsburg head coach Tom Nickelson said. “The defense was getting three-and-outs, and the offense was scoring quickly — it was the best quarter we’ve played to date.”
Pittsburg’s win over Andover Central had a similar feel to the Purple Dragons’ week-four win over Fort Scott — getting all phases of the game to play nearly error free in order to get the victory.
While the Dragon offense did a solid job of putting points up on the board in bunches to open the game, the PHS defense — which pitched its second shutout in as many weeks — was busy preventing the Jaguars for picking up a first down in their first four possessions of the first quarter.
“Like I said last week, I don’t care who you are playing, if you can get a shutout, that is pretty special,” Nickelson said. “We have to tip our hat once again to the kids and the defensive staff for executing a really good game plan.”
To make matters worse for Andover Central, PHS’ Trevor Kent blocked a Jaguar punt on their second possession, and Elijah Harris picked off deep pass from Central quarterback Jack Steiner on its third possession for the game’s first turnover.
It wasn’t until the opening possession of the second quarter when Central picked up its initial first down of the game.
The momentum didn’t last long, though, as Pittsburg’s Chase Johnson intercepted Steiner three plays later on third-and-10, and returned the ball 40 yards for a touchdown to push the Dragon lead to 31-0, with 10:08 to play in the first half.
“Chase is a kid who has worked really, really hard,” Nickelson said. “One of his best attributes is his smarts. He went right under [the receiver] and picked the ball off and got down the sideline. Everybody was really excited, the coaches included.”
All told, PHS’ defense intercepted Steiner four times in the first half, with Joel Kafka and Alex Kafka each earning interceptions late in the second quarter. The Dragons forced six turnovers in the game.
“It was a complete defensive effort,” Nickelson said. “We weren’t having to blitz a lot tonight because our front four were doing a great job of getting pressure without us having to send any linebackers, allowing us to drop and fill all the zones. Once we got pressure, and [Steiner] threw it up, the secondary did a nice job breaking on the ball.”
Up 7-0, Pittsburg’s offense went to the air on its first play of its second drive, with quarterback Chase Curtis slinging the ball over the middle of the field to find a streaking Skylur vonWinklepleck for a gain of 52 yards.
Two plays later, Long took the second-and-7 handoff up the middle for a score to put PHS on top 14-0.
Long added his third score of the game on Pittsburg’s third possession, scoring from 3 yards out to push the advantage to 21-0.
Following the interception by Harris on the Jaguars’ second possession, Nathan Neef connected on a 27-yard field goal on the ensuing PHS drive to give the Dragons a 24-0 lead, with 1:51 to play in the first quarter.
Pittsburg continued with the balanced attack against the Jaguars midway through the second quarter, when Curtis hit Harris on a 10-yard out to the right far-side sideline on first-and-23, which turned into another big play. Harris hauled in the reception, turned upfield and made several defenders miss on the way to a 42-yard score to give the Dragons a 38-0 lead, with 6:23 to play in the opening half.
Long’s fourth touchdown of the game came with 7:43 to play in the third quarter, on Pittsburg’s first possession of the second half, when he took a first-and-10 handoff 12 yards to the right before finding paydirt. The touchdown gave the Dragons a 45-0 lead.
“He ran well,” Nickelson said. “Probably the two best runs he’s had all season were the first two times he touched the ball in the first quarter. He’s getting more and more confidence, and is a fast, strong kid … We need him and the offensive line to keep working, so they can continue to click.”
The Jaguars looked as if they were going to get on the scoreboard to start the fourth quarter, but a goal line stand by the Dragons, highlighted by a 17-yard sack by Peyton Steele on fourth-and-3 kept the shutout intact.
With the reserves in, Ty Roark hooked up with Tye Cicero on a dump route over the middle for an 80-yard touchdown for Pittsburg’s final score of the game.
Pittsburg hits the road with a matchup against Carl Junction at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7.
Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.