Hardin-Central broke open a close game by scoring six unanswered touchdowns Thursday night as the Bulldogs rolled over the Pirates 64-18 at Norborne.
The Hardin-Central win claimed the final District 1 playoff spot and puts the Dawgs in the 8-man playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Hardin-Central, now 6-4, finishes as the runner-up in the district behind Miami and will travel to St. Joseph Friday night to meet District 2 champion St. Joseph Christian.
The Bulldogs turned to their ground game Thursday to get through the muddy turf with Chris Wilson leading the way as he piled up 212 yards on 24 carries with a pair of touchdowns, while Randy Estenbaum carried 19 times for 102 more yards and 4 touchdowns.
“They scared us at first, but we settled into our running game and controlled the clock and the tempo of the game,” Bulldog Coach Kirk Thacker said. “Chris and Randy both had big nights, but the credit goes to our offensive line for our rushing attack. They all blocked so well and did their jobs.”
The Bulldogs were never forced into a punting situation as they ended the night with 336 rushing yards with Estenbaum completing 4 of his 7 passes to four different receivers for 42 yards with a touchdown and a pair of interceptions. Norborne managed 147 yards on the ground, with J.J. Storey picking up 108 of those on 22 carries. Tyler McNelly hit just 4 of 22 pass attempts for 62 yards with a touchdown.
The Storey and McNelly combination kept Norborne in the game early. Estenbaum and Wilson hooked up for a 24-yard scoring strike for the Dawgs with Grant Wheeler grabbing the conversion pass for an early 8-0 Hardin-Central lead.
The Pirates struck back with a 63-yard touchdown run by Storey and a 19-yard McNelly run for a 12-8 Norborne lead.
The rest of the night belonged to the Bulldogs. Estenbaum capped the next Hardin-Central possession with an 8-yard touchdown run, followed by Wilson breaking loose for a 54-yard scoring jog. Estenbaum hit Scott Spencer for the conversion and when the first period ended, the Bulldogs held a 22-12 cushion.
Two more long drives for Hardin-Central resulted in touchdowns as the Dawgs built their advantage to 34-12 by the intermission. Estenbaum ended both drives with touchdown runs of 2 and 1 yards, but the conversion runs following both scores were stopped short.
Two more long Bulldog drives in the third period resulted in two more short touchdown runs for Hardin-Central.
Estenbaum’s third consecutive touchdown came on a 3-yard run, and then Wilson crashed in from the one. Wilson ran for the conversion following his score for a 48-12 bulge. Norborne ended the Bulldog scoring string early in the final period with McNelly hitting Derick McGinnis for a 24-yard touchdown pass, but the run for two failed.
Hardin-Central quickly got back on the board as Estenbaum returned the ensuing kickoff 74 yards, and followed that by running the conversion. Jake Harris capped the Bulldog scoring with a 4-yard run with Wheeler running the conversion with 3:42 remaining in the game.
PHOTO: Hardin-Central’s Chris Wilson ran for over 200 yards in their win against rival Norborne Thursday night at Norborne. Bulldog Grant Wheeler blocks Pirate J.J. Storey (5) as Wilson gains some yards. (Photo by JoEllen Black/The Daily News)