Special to The Gardner News
Losses don’t come much tougher than this.
Despite twice holding a lead of 14 points, the Gardner-Edgerton High School football team could not hold off the short passing attack of the Blue Valley Northwest Huskies, falling in the game’s final minute — 35-28 — Thursday evening at the Blue Valley District Activities Complex.
The Trailblazers fell despite a 209-yard rushing night from junior tailback Baylor Maxwell and a 155-yard, 2 touchdown performance from senior wide receiver Jace Sprague. However, the Blazers’ potent offensive attack became bogged down in the fourth quarter, while Husky senior quarterback Payton Hartman efficiently ran the Northwest offense to three touchdowns in their final four possessions.
The Blazers began their initial onslaught on their second possession of the game. After taking over on their own 11 with 7:24 remaining in the first quarter, GEHS opened the scoring when sophomore quarterback Teven McKelvey threw a perfect strike to Sprague racing down the middle of the field for a 77-yard TD reception. It was the Trailblazers’ longest scoring play of the season and gave the visitors a 7-0 lead with 5:33 left in the quarter.
After the Blazer kickoff, the Huskies fumbled on their next play from scrimmage and GEHS senior defensive back Austin Bond pounced on the loose ball. The recovery gave the Trailblazers excellent field position at Northwest 29.
Though the Blazers began the ensuing drive moving backwards, they again flaunted their quick strike capability on 4th and 13 when McKelvey once again found Sprague over the middle for a 32-yard touchdown completion. Though the PAT kick afterward was errant, GEHS still held a 13-0 lead with 3:42 left in the period.
Northwest responded with their first scoring drive of the evening — a 10-play, 61-yard march that culminated in a one-yard touchdown plunge from Husky senior running back Chris Thomas. The ensuing extra point cut the Blazer lead to 6 at 13-7 as the first period of play ended.
The Trailblazers retook control of the game with the opening possession of the 2nd quarter, covering 64 yards in 8 plays for their third touchdown of the game. Key among the plays of the drive was a 43-yard pass completion from McKelvey to Sprague that took the ball down to the Huskies 12-yard line. Five plays later, McKelvey barrelled in from the 1-yard line, and — after Maxwell successfully ran in the two-point conversion — the Blazers led 21-7 with 9:23 left in the half.
The Trailblazers looked to the add to that lead a little more than two minutes later, after senior linebacker Tucker Tribble sacked Hartman, stripped him of the ball and recovered the Husky quarterback’s fumble. A 36-yard Maxwell run two plays later gave the Blazers a 1st-and-10 at the Northwest 36, but the first of three costly Blazer turnovers occurred three plays later when Husky senior defensive back Terrel Hunter picked off a McKelvey pass.
The Huskies capitalized on their ensuing possession, marching 81 yards in 15 plays and capping it off with a Hartman six-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver Jackson Heath, making the halftime score 21-14, Blazers.
The Blazer defense came up big on the opening possession of the second half, stopping the Huskies attempt at an equalizing score when junior defensive back Brody Marshall intercepted a Hartman pass. Marshall’s pick and subsequent 5-yard return gave the Blazers 1st-and-10 at their own 44.
Maxwell then covered 56 yards in four rushes, including a 3-yard touchdown gallop, and the GEHS lead was once again 14 points, 28-14, with 9:28 remaining in the third quarter.
A Husky touchdown drive that made the score 28-21 was then followed by the second costly Blazer turnover of the evening. A fumble in the Trailblazer backfield was recovered by the Huskies, giving Northwest a very short field with a 1st-and-10 at the GEHS 32. Two plays later Husky senior fullback drove in from the five-yard line and the game was tied at 28-28 with 9:47 left to play.
Three possessions later, the Huskies began an eight-play, 61-yard scoring drive that ended in Hartman’s 2nd TD connection to Parks — this one a 10-yard strike over the middle with 1:02 remaining. That score gave the Huskies a 35-28 lead. The Blazers could not move the ball past their own 34 on their final possession of the night, and the Huskies’ win dropped GEHS to 0-6 on the season.
Despite the loss, several Trailblazers turned in impressive performances. Offensively, Maxwell’s 209 rushing yards and 1 rushing touchdown came on 23 carries, giving the junior a 9.1 yards per carry average for the game. Sprague’s 155-yard, 2-touchdown night came on four receptions, earning the senior a 38.8 yards per reception average.
Tribble turned in an epic performance defensively for the Blazers as he recorded 4 tackles for loss (-16 yards), 1 sack, and a fumble recovery. Bond added 1 tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.