Special to The Sun
What a difference a week makes.
Last week with star quarterback Justice Hansen sidelined with a lingering groin injury, the Santa Fe Wolves produced an anemic offense and fell to visiting Midwest City, 3-0.
Thursday night at Wantland Stadium after an hour-and-a-half weather delay, Hansen and the Wolves came out clicking on all cylinders for a 49-35 shootout win over Yukon.
And while he was happy with the win and the performance of his offense, Santa Fe coach Lance Manning was concerned about the performance of his defense which went from limiting Midwest City to just a field goal to yielding 35 points and more than 400 yards of offense to Yukon and quarterback Hayden Somerville.
“That’s too much,” said Manning. “We’ve got to get better on defense. We are not a team that is going to depend on outscoring people. I thought our guys up front got tired on both sides of the ball.”
Hansen, who received his Under Armour All-American game jersey in a special assembly at Santa Fe earlier Thursday, made an immediate impact on the game.
After an eight-yard completion to Aaron Jones on the Wolves’ initial play of the game, Hansen scrambled through the Miller defense for a dazzling 23-yard gain to ignite the Santa Fe faithful.
After a 10-yard pass to Malcom Dade, Hansen found Malik Earl on a slant pattern and hit him in stride for a 37-yard TD strike. Edward Smith hit the first of seven PATs for a 7-0 lead that the Wolves would never relinquish.
By the time his night was over, Hansen had completed 15 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns and added 115 yards on 13 carries and two more touchdowns.
On the first play after the kickoff following the Wolves’ early touchdown, the Santa Fe defense answered as Jones stepped in front of a Somerville pass and sped untouched 36 yards for a 14-0 bulge with 6:42 left to play.
The Millers’ Hunter Sconce answered with a 28-yard scamper to cut the deficit to a single touchdown, but Yukon would get no closer in spite of a spirited comeback attempt in the final period.
It only took Hansen and Co. four plays to complete an 82-yard drive following the Yukon kickoff.
Cameron Westbrook, back at his more comfortable running back slot after temporary duty as Hansen’s fill-in last week, picked up 11 and then Hansen and Dade hooked up for seven more yards. Then, after Westbrook earned a gain of three, Hansen again found Jones open down the boundary and hit him in perfect stride for a 55-yard beauty to make it 21-7 after Smith’s PAT.
Hansen got another boost from his defense on the next series when Ashton Preston came up with a tipped ball to give the Wolfpack the ball on its own 23. This time it took 10 plays with Hansen going the final 13 for the score, but his arm accounted for 31 yards to Earl and 15 more to Quinzell Jones to set up the TD to make it 28-7 at the 9:42 mark.
But Sconce cut that deficit in half with his second tally, this one from the four after Somerville set it up with a 12-yard scramble.
On the ensuing 70-yard TD drive, Hansen connected with Earl for gains of 29 and 18, the latter down to the eight where K’Marrie Carter-Hartfield bounced in for the touchdown but the Millers beat the clock and Somerville and Caelen Groce collaborated for a 12-yard TD with 2:19 left to make it 35-21 at halftime and the clock on the wall nearing 10 p.m.
Q. Jones came up with a defensive gem to force the Millers to give up the ball on downs at the Santa Fe 25 early in the third period. Starting at the 11 following a Hansen punt, the Millers rattled off 14 plays before Jones slapped down a fourth-down pass to give the Wolves Fe possession on its own 26.
Three plays, 74 yards, touchdown! Hansen gained 13 on a keeper and Westbrook added two before the potent Hansen-and-Earl combo did it again, this time from 58 yards out to make it 42-21 but the pesky Millers got it back in one play as Somerville found wide open tight end Noah Gillette over the middle. The big fellow made it all the way to the end zone, dragging a couple of Santa Fe defenders with him.
Not to be denied, the Wolves continued the offensive frenzy taking the kickoff at their own 24 and taking just seven plays to reach paydirt with Hansen accounting for 61 of the yards with his feet. He showed absolutely no lingering effects from the hamstring on the TD run as he used speed, power and deception to cover the final 41 yards to wind up the Santa Fe scoring for the night.
But the Millers weren’t through running a punt back to the Wolfpack 20 with four minutes left and Somerville took care of the rest, connecting with Sconce for nine and then the TD toss to Parker Bohanan for the final score.
The Wolves will play Edmond North in Round 2 of Edlam next Friday night at Wantland Stadium.