FLORENCE — After the game, Ryan Simmons was back on crutches with his left ankle packed in ice.
But on the field, he was anything but cold.
The Salado junior quarterback returned after missing the better part of two games with a high ankle sprain to throw three touchdowns and run for another as the struggling Eagles swept in and wrecked Florence’s homecoming with a 48-22 win Friday night at Stampede Stadium.
“It felt great to be able to have success, finally,” said Simmons, who finished 13-of-26 passing for 295 yards, rushing for another 46.
“I liked airing it out tonight. (My ankle) was a little sore, so running wasn’t my favorite thing to do tonight like usual. But airing it out was fun.”
Having watched his teammates fruitlessly struggle from the sidelines for the majority of three games this season, including all but three snaps last week, Simmons came out firing early against the Buffaloes (3-3, 1-2 13-2A Div. 1).
“It was great to be able to put up some points, but mainly to win the game,” Simmons said as the Eagles racked up a season-high 525 yards of total offense.
Connecting on 7 of 10 passes — including five straight — over a 7½-minute span in the first quarter, Simmons struck gold on back-to-back 63-yard touchdown throws. The first of those went to a streaking Josh Oyler down the right sideline, the second to Brandon Womac over the middle of the field to put the Eagles (1-5, 1-2) up 14-0 with 3:59 left in the first.
“They came off our ghost plays, which are meant to draw (the defense) offsides and we throw the ball,” Salado coach Glenn Talbott said. “And the receivers made great catches — the one down the sideline (Oyler) made a one-handed catch, pulled it in and went the distance, and the other was just about the same.”
Simmons, who left with five minutes left in the game after a Florence defender rolled over his injured ankle, said he’ll have it checked out today, but the Salado coaches are hopeful he’ll be available next week against Troy.
“He’s been battling this injury for two weeks, and he finally got to where he was at least 90 percent,” Talbott said.
But while Simmons was automatic at times, Florence senior Kaleb Hardy was anything but.
Hardy — who is being courted by half a dozen Division I programs — connected on just two of his first 13 pass attempts before closing out the first half 5-of-6 through the air. Hardy would rally, finishing 19-of-45 for 248 passing yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for another 118 yards on 21 carries.
“He was off early in the first half, he was overthrowing, not hitting wide-open guys,” Florence coach Paul Smith said. “He was just not playing well, not running well, didn’t play well.”
Salado didn’t hold back, as Simmons found Cameron Wong wide open on a fade for a 51-yard strike to stretch it to 21-0 with 9:38 left in the second quarter.
On Florence’s fifth offensive series, Hardy got things going, capping a 13-play drive with back-to-back completions, including rolling to his right before finding Matthew Mellette for a 29-yard touchdown to make it 21-7 with 5:54 before halftime.
But on the next series, a fumble by Buffs receiver Wyatt Odom on the first play led to a 36-yard field goal from Eagles kicker Chase Crenwelge with 47 seconds left in the half. Crenwelge also added 86 rushing yards on 9 carries, including a 49-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds remaining in the third quarter to put Salado ahead 41-15.
The lowlight for Florence came on its opening possession of the second half as a punt snap sailed over Hardy’s head on fourth-and-19 at the Buffs 41 and rolled to the 1-yard line before Hardy managed to kick it out of bounds for a safety.
“We’re a freaking schizophrenic football team — we don’t know who we are right now,” Smith said. “(Tonight, we) decided we weren’t going to play in the first half and waited until the second half to start playing.”