Special to The Gardner News
What a night!
Playing in front of a national television audience and the largest crowd in Gardner sports history, Gardner Edgerton High overwhelmed St. Thomas Aquinas 57-17 in a 5A district encounter on Oct. 22.
The ‘Blazer offense was simply unstoppable in this contest, amassing over 600 yards.
And it came against an opponent that was no slouch-the Saints had been highly ranked all year.
GE didn’t take long to get on the board, scoring on a five-play drive on the game’s first possession. Ryan Weber had the touchdown on a 14-yard carry. The big play on the drive was a 54-yard run by quarterback Bubba Starling.
Starling finished the game with 310 yards rushing-breaking the school record of 273 he set just two weeks earlier. The senior signal caller now has over 700 yards rushing in the last three games.
After the ‘Blazer defense thwarted the first STA drive deep in enemy territory, it would not take long for GE to score again. This time it was an 11-yard pass from Starling to Alex Knorr for the touchdown, culminating a seven play drive. Big plays on that drive came from Starling and Jensen who both had carries of more than 24 yards.
The Saints-who came into the game with one of the state’s most prolific offenses, answered that score with a TD of their own to trim the lead to 14-7 at the end of the first period.
Both teams traded scores on big plays to start the second period. GE scored on a 62-yard Starling run and Aquinas on an 82-yard pass play. The score stood at 21-14 and more than 10 minutes remained in the first half.
From that point on, the ‘Blazers flat out dominated. Kris Henry’s defensive unit stiffened, getting a tremendous pass rush and several quarterback sacks from Dan Mauszycki and Kyle Pacheco and blanket coverage from the secondary of Deion Shump, Ryan Newhouse, Chance Pevehouse, and Marcus Williams. Add the suffoctating run defense of linebackers Jeff Ragland, Brent Bovitz, and Matt Plank to get a superlative defensive effort that yielded only a field goal the rest of the contest
For the ‘Blazer offense, it was score after score after score. To end the first half, GE hit paydirt two more times- on runs of 29 and 56 yards for Starling-who finished the first half with a mind-boggling 269 yards on the ground. Those scores gave the Blazers a 35-14 halftime cushion.
In the second half, Jensen became the workhorse, gaining 146 yards and scoring on touchdown runs of two and 33 yards. Weber had a touchdown run of one yard and also had a two point conversion. Chase Lee added seven perfect extra point kicks to account for the 57-17 final.
Overall, the ‘Blazers finished with 587 yards of rushing, led by Starling’s 310 yards. Jensen added 190 and Weber-despite playing with an injury-had a 63-yard night. Tim Seymour added 24 yards.
The offensive line of Lucas Powell, Cayden White, Mason Rodgers, Pacheco, Greg Hopper, and Chris Martin was very instrumental in the impressive rushing total. This group got off the ball well and had an outstanding push all evening, opening up the gaping holes that the backs ran through.
“It was awesome,” said coach Marvin Diener after the game about the win and the electrifying atmosphere (the crowd was estimated to be about 6,000).
“We played so well upfront on both sides of the ball. Our three backs ran very hard and we didn’t turn it over. We are awfully tough to stop when we play like we did tonight. Defensively, we gave up one big play but other than that we did a great job, holding them to their season-low of 17 points,” said the Gardner Edgerton coach.
Now 8-0 on the year, the Blazers will have their stiffest test of the season when they face Blue Valley at home on October 29. The winner of the contest between the two undefeated squads will be the district and league champ. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.