The first 20 plays of a gutsy fourth quarter drive put the Concordia Panthers in position to pick up their first win of the season, but the final four left the Panthers with a stinging 20-14 North Central Kansas League loss to Abilene Friday night at Harold M. Clark Stadium.
Trailing Abilene by six points early in the final period, the Panthers came up with a stop on fourth down and seven, and took possession at its own 16-yard line with 10:25 to play in the game.
Converting four times on fourth down, including a fourth and 12, the Panthers marched 79 yards in 20 plays to the Abilene 5-yard line.
Kaleb Pounds was stopped for no gain on first down.
Drake Hake, who carried the ball 33 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns, was thrown for a 5-yard loss on second down.
Abilene stopped Hake for no gain on a third down and goal from the 10-yard line.
Facing a fourth and goal, quarterback Zach Kyle threw incomplete to Skyler Hittle in the end zone.
Abilene took possession with 1:12 remaining, and was able to run out the clock.
“If we could have finished that off, that would have been something,” Concordia coach Tim Lambert said of the 24-play drive, “We missed a block on that second down play and it got us off schedule. That second down play was the game. We had a chance on the last play. The kids did a good job trying to execute, and it just didn’t happen.”
Concordia falls to 0-4 overall and 0-2 in the league with the loss.
Abilene improved to 2-2 overall and 2-0 in NCKL play.
Leading 20-14, the Cowboys had moved from its own 39-yard line to the Concordia 12.
Concordia threw Tanner Hoekman for a 3-yard loss on third down and three.
On fourth down, Harley Hazlett threw an incomplete pass and the Panthers got the ball on their own 16.
Concordia converted twice on fourth and one.
On a fourth down and 12 play, Kyle threw a short pass to Jace Coppoc, who was able to avoid an Abilene defender and get up the sideline for a first down.
Concordia would get a 3-yard run by Hake on a fourth and one, and then a 19-yard run by Pounds to set up the first and goal at the five.
The drive would then stall, and Abilene held on for the win.
“We would have won that game and they know it,” Lambert said, “We were able to make just enough mistakes to not allow us to win the game, but we did some good things.”
Concordia ran 69 offensive plays to 43 for Abilene and finished with 222 yards of total offense, including 191 rushing.
Pounds carried 17 times for 73 yards for the Panthers.
Kyle completed three of six passes for 31 yards.
“Our offensive line played well. Our backs made some yards after contact which we did not have a lot of the first three weeks. We made some guys miss,” Lambert said.
Hoekman rushed for 91 yards on 10 carries for Abilene.
Hazlett completed 11 of 14 passes for 139 yards.
Abilene struck first when Hoekman capped off a nine play, 69-yard drive with a 33-yard touchdown run.
Concordia responded by going 65 yards in 11 plays.
Hake gained 13 yards on a third down and nine and three yards on a fourth and one. He finished off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run with 11:17 to play in the first half.
Logan Higbee kicked the extra point to tie the game at 7-7.
Abilene then ran 11 plays in marching 55 yards, and scored on a 10-yard run by Hazlett to regain the lead at 14-7.
Concordia then put together a 13-play drive.
A 10-yard run by Hake on fourth down and four put the Panthers at the Abilene five.
Hake scored three plays later from two yards out to pull even at 14-14 with 49 seconds remaining in the half.
Abilene got the ball back on its own 35-yard line with 41 seconds on the clock.
Hazlett threw a short swing pass to Hoekman, and he was able to turn the corner and go 42 yards.
Abilene faced a fourth down when Hazlett scrambled and threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Hoekman with two seconds on the clock.
The extra point attempt was no good, but Abilene led 20-14.
“He got out of the pocket and bought a little time and the kid got behind us in the back of the end zone,” Lambert said, “The first down play hurt us more than that one. They ran a little swing pass, and we were dead asleep and it went for 40 some yards.”
Concordia ran 12 plays on its first possession of the second half, but consecutive penalties forced a punt.
The Panthers got a stop on its own 27-yard line, but were forced to punt.
Abilene moved into Concordia territory again, but the Panthers came up with another defensive stop to set up the final drive.
“You look at three plays, their first touchdown play, the first down play and our second down play. You flip any of those three around and the outcome would probably have been different. That is how close the game was,” Lambert said.
Concordia travels to Marysville for a league game on Friday night.