CALDWELL — Caldwell head football coach Matt Langley looked to send his team to the playoffs by keeping Smithville’s dynamic offense off the field.
For three quarters, the strategy worked nearly to perfection.
The Tigers’ offense, which led District 12-4A Division II in total yardage entering Friday’s game, woke up in the second half, scoring 21 points in the final 19 minutes for a 21-2 victory and clinching the district’s final playoff spot, dashing the Hornets’ playoff hopes for the second consecutive year.
Caldwell (3-7, 1-4) dominated the first half, holding Smithville to a pair of first downs. The Hornets took a lead when Brandon Williams tackled a Smithville player on a backwards pass for a safety in the closing minutes of the half, leading to a halftime score that was more fútbol than football at 2-0.
The district’s leading passer, Lane Otto of Smithville (6-4, 3-2), struggled in the first half, missing on all three passes he attempted. The Tigers went back to their run game on the opening possession of the second half, driving 62 yards over five minutes with 53 of the yards coming on the ground capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Otto on second-and-goal.
Caldwell moved the ball on the ensuing possession and looked primed to jump back in front when quarterback Kyle Cunningham found a wide-open receiver with nothing but green in front of him on third-and-10, but the Hornets dropped the pass to end the drive.
Otto connected on a 57-yard TD pass to Charle Hodge on the ensuing possession, and Caldwell’s playoff hopes began to fade after fumbling the snap on it next offensive play, one of five fumbles for the Hornets.
Cunningham was a perfect 5-for-5 passing in the first half and completed his first six passes overall, finishing with 110 yards in the air.
Otto ended up with 147 yards of total offense after his slow start.
“Obviously, if you’re going to keep score, we expect to win,” said Langley, who completed his first year in charge of Caldwell. “We didn’t do the things well enough that it takes to win enough football games. We will have to get better from here and lord willing find a way to get into the postseason moving forward.”