PITTSBURG — The Purple Dragons finished off the regular season with a convincing 50-6 win over Wichita North Friday at Hutchinson Field.
Pittsburg scored on every possession of the first half, except a kneel down with less than a minute to play before the intermission, to go into the locker room with a 43-0 lead. The Purple Dragons played solid complimentary football, with the defense — which didn’t allow a Redskin first down until the third quarter — giving the offense a short field to work with for nearly the entire first half to build the big advantage. PHS continued to control the time of possession, and the lead, in the second half on the way to the win.
“I definitely think we are playing our best football of the season right now — and we need to be,” PHS head coach Tom Nickelson said. “There is no easy game ever in the postseason. These kids have worked a lot of hours in the weight room, film room and practice to get this win tonight. We hope we gave ourselves a chance to be successful [moving forward] with the preparation we did in the summer and throughout the schedule we’ve played.”
The Purple Dragons — in the midst of their first season as an independent program — are eying a fourth seed in the state playoff tournament. The run-away win over the Redskins helped their chances tremendously.
“I think we’ve got the fourth seed pretty much locked up,” Nickelson said. “From a football standpoint, our kids did exactly what we were hoping they would do. They did a good job preparing all week, and I thought this was the most-complete game we’ve played, particularly in the first half.”
Pittsburg struck first in the win, with Elijah Harris scoring his first of three touchdowns on a 30-yard sweep to the left, hurdling a defender in the process, to give PHS a 7-0 lead, with 8:36 on the clock.
Quarterback Chase Curtis connected on a 20-yard pass to Drew Roelfs to set up the score.
A 57-yard drive by the Purple Dragons on their second possession moved the lead to 15-0.
Curtis completed a pass to the back, right pylon to Harris, who made a pretty over-the-shoulder catch for the score on second-and-goal from the Wichita North 5-yard line.
“Chase Curtis is playing at a really high level right now — particularly in the passing game,” Nickelson said. “He’s got a lot of wideouts and tight ends who are stepping up and helping him out … We’re Pittsburg, we’re still a run-based team, but to be able play action and throw like Chase has thrown over the last several weeks, it just opens up the running lanes even more.”
Curtis had a 12-yard completion on the drive to Roelfs, and fullback Noah Vaughn had a 45-yard touchdown run called back to a 23-yard gain because of a PHS penalty to highlight the drive.
Vaughn got into the endzone on the Dragons’ next possession, finishing off a drive which started deep in Redskin territory thanks to an interception by Keyth Waltrip — the game’s first turnover.
“That was a great pick by Keyth,” Nickelson said. “To punch it in and get six points, it just continued to put the momentum on our side.”
The rushing touchdown gave PHS a 22-0 lead, with 11:58 to play in the second quarter. Harris had a 14-yard run during the drive to set up the touchdown.
Vaughn added his second rushing score of the game from 14-yards out, taking the ball left before cutting upfield to cross the goal line with 8:20 on the clock, pushing Pittsburg’s lead to 29-0.
Harris scored his third touchdown on a 57-yard completion up the right sideline from Curtis with 6:00 minutes to play in the first half, making it a perfect five for five in drives ending in a touchdown for Pittsburg.
“Elijah is just a difference maker,” Nickelson said. “He’s started for us for four years for a reason — he is a very special player who can do a lot of great things.”
Waltrip carried the ball over the goal line for a score with 2:00 to play in the first half, following a 28-yard pass over the middle to tight end Trevor Kent.
The touchdown moved the lead to 43-0, firmly planting Pittsburg as the favorite in the game.
The big plays continued to show in the Purple Dragons’ favor in the second half, with running back Jhalani Long taking a handoff left, before cutting his way back to the middle of the field on the way to a 55-yard score to give Pittsburg a 50-0 lead, with 10 minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Redskins found a little momentum near the end of the third, as Chris Zaricki scored on a run from 8 yards out to cut into the PHS lead, 50-6.
Wichita North recovered the ensuing onside kick, looking to make a dent in the lead, but Pittsburg responded with Brett Wiemers coming up with an interception early in the Redskin drive to swing the momentum back in favor of the Dragons.
“That was our second and third units mixed together,” Nickelson said. “They’re on the field on Friday night and want to play hard to show the coaching staff what they can do, so they can get on the field some more.”
The Purple Dragons play the waiting game to find out who their first-round opponent will be in the Kansas Class 5A State Playoffs.
-- 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.