Facing off against a solid football program in the EKL is hard enough. But to do so with several of your team’s key starters missing, can make the task almost herculean.
The Gardner-Edgerton High School football team experienced that scenario on Thursday night when hosting Blue Valley North. Unfortunately for the Trailblazers, the injury bug — and the Mustangs — proved too much to overcome, as GEHS fell to North, 34-12, to fall to 0-5 on the season.
The Mustangs opened the game with a 55-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Graham Mertz to senior receiver Dre McCallop, giving BVN a 7-0 lead 36 seconds into the contest.
The Trailblazers held the Mustangs scoreless on their next two possessions, including one that ended with a tipped Mertz pass that was intercepted by GEHS junior defensive back Brody Marshall. However, with 3:38 left in the first quarter, the Mustangs’ speed struck once again when Mertz found senior receiver Nijel Roberts with a 66-yard scoring strike that made the score 14-0 heading into the second quarter.
The Mustangs began the second period of play by adding to their lead with a 31-yard TD run by senior running back Grant Hammel. The ensuing North PAT increased the Mustang lead to 21-0 with 11:25 left to play i the half.
However, the Trailblazers ended the next Mustang possession with another pick, as senior defensive back Jace Sprague snatched another tipped Mertz pass, giving GEHS possession on their own 23.
The Blazers then flashed their own quick strike ability. With 7:45 left to play in the half, sophomore quarterback Tyler Goetzmann — making his first varsity start — threw a perfect 42-yard strike to sophomore wideout Teven McKelvey for the Blazers’ first touchdown of the evening. Though the two-point conversion attempt afterward fell short, GEHS was back in the game, trailing 21-6.
The Trailblazers earned one more scoring chance toward the end of the first half when the defense intercepted Mertz for the third time. Marshall’s second interception and subsequent 21-yard return gave the Blazers a first-and-10 at the North 39. After suffering a sack and a deflected pass, Goetzmann was able to connect with Sprague for a 27-yard gain, but time ran out on the Blazers before a scoring drive could come to fruition.
The Trailblazers began the second half much like they ended the first — by moving the ball on offense. Behind solid running by junior running back Baylor Maxwell and short-game passing by Goetzmann, GEHS moved the ball up to midfield on their opening possession of the second half. However, the Mustangs intercepted Goetzmann on the ninth play of the drive and took over on the North 46.
Six plays later, Mertz connected with junior wide receiver Malik Bauer for a five-yard score, and the Mustangs increased their lead to 28-6 with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
GEHS answered with a solid 13-play, 5:37 scoring drive. Spurred by significant gains on passes from Goetzmann to Sprague and junior receiver Gage Gulley, the Blazers punctuated the drive with a one-yard scoring plunge from Maxwell. Despite a failed two-point conversion attempt, the Blazers had made the score 28-12 with 11:56 left  in the contest.
However, North added one more score in the fourth quarter and subsequent Blazer possessions ended in two losses of downs and a lost fumble, making the final score 34-12.
The Trailblazers were hobbled on defense coming into the came by the absence of senior linebacker Tyler Henry, who suffered a broken collarbone in the second game of the season. Offensively, the Blazers were without starting tights ends Luke Jennings and Lucas Soza and starting tailback Keegan Michael, among others, due to injuries.
Despite several players pressed into new roles due to the plague of injuries, the Blazers posted impressive offensive numbers.
In his first start at QB, Goetzmann connected on 14 of 29 passes for 178 passing yards, a touchdown, and one interception. With Maxwell also making his first start at tailback, the junior rushed for 95 yards and a TD on 22 carries. In moving from QB to wideout, McKelvey hauled in five passes for 84 yards and a score, while Sprague collected five catches for 70 receiving yards and rushed once for 4 yards.