Pete Logan
Behind the efforts of three 100-yard rushers, the Gardner-Edgerton High School football team used a strong second half to down Shawnee Mission West, 35-14, Friday night at Gardner-Edgerton District Activities Center. The win finished off a perfect 8-0 regular season for the Trailblazers, as they head into the Kansas 6A football playoffs this Friday as the number one seed in the Eastern Division.
Senior fullback Jacob Hunsperger, senior tailback Luke Jennings, and junior quarterback Teven McKelvey each went over the century mark on the ground Friday night, with Hunsperger and Jennings accounting for all five of the GEHS touchdowns.
The Trailblazers wasted little time in setting the tone. On the game’s first drive, 24-yard carries by McKelvey and Hunsperger helped move the ball down to the Vikings’ 3-yard line. From there, Hunsperger barrelled into the end zone, and — with sophomore Caleb Calvin’s extra point — Gardner-Edgerton had grabbed a 7-0 lead with 7:41 to play in the first quarter.
Still, Shawnee Mission West originally looked poised to answer the challenge. The Vikings mounted their own long drive on their first possession. West had a first-and-10 on the Blazer 17 when Gardner-Edgerton senior linebacker Corbin Moore sacked the Vikings’ junior quarterback CJ Callaghan for a loss of 3 yards. Three plays later on 4th-and-10, GEHS senior linebackers Darrin Robertson and Jonah May stopped West sophomore running back Andrew Kinney for no gain to turn the ball back over to the Trailblazers on downs.
Gardner-Edgerton then marched 83 yards on 9 plays for their next score. The drive was capped off by Jennings’ 26-yard dash to the end zone for the game’s second touchdown, and — with 9:23 left in the first half — the Trailblazers led 14-0.
However, the Vikings were determined not to be dismissed easily. West mounted a 15-play, 65-yard drive that brought the score to 14-7 when Kinney ran in a touchdown from 8 yards out with 2:53 left in the half.
The Trailblazers failed to score on their last possession of the half, leading to what may have been the game’s most crucial possession.
After winning the game’s opening coin flip and deferring, the Vikings received the 2nd half’s opening kickoff. West covered the onside kick attempt by the Blazers and opened the half with the ball and excellent field position at their own 46. Yet the Blazer defense stiffened, holding Shawnee Mission West to a three-and-out and forcing a punt. Junior defensive end Keith Brown contributed a tackle-for-loss on the key defensive stand.
The Blazers then began to chew up the turf with their three-headed ground game. GEHS marched 88 yards on 11 plays, taking 5:40 off the clock. Hunsperger punctuated the drive with a 1-yard plunge on a dive play, and GEHS led 21-7 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
On the Vikings’ next possession, Gardner-Edgerton forced West to turn the ball over on downs, giving GEHS the ball back only one minute and 10 seconds later.
This time, the Blazers showed their quick strike capabilities, albeit with a little luck involved. It took only four plays for the Trailblazers to score this time, and the big play was a 53-yard burst by McKelvey that began when a botched snap from center bounced off the turf and right back into the QB’s hands. McKelvey took the opportune rebound and sprinted down the left side of the field — all the way to the West 23. Two plays later, Jennings took a left to right crossbuck carry 11 yards to the house, and the score was 28-7 GEHS with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter.
The Trailblazer defense forced another three-and-out when GEHS senior defensive lineman Peyton Vance sacked Callaghan for a six-yard loss on 3rd-and-9. The ensuing Vikings’ punt gave the Blazers excellent field position at their own 48.
Gardner-Edgerton took the possession into the final quarter and marched 52 yards in just five plays, capping the drive off with a 7-yard touchdown jaunt by Hunsperger to make the score 35-7 with 10:21 left in the game.
The Vikings added a late score to make the final margin 35-14, but the Trailblazers had dominated the second half and secured themselves a perfect 8-0 regular-season finish.
After the game, Gardner-Edgerton head coach Ryan Cornelsen reflected on what the season so far has meant to the program.
“Hopefully,” said Cornelsen, “it’s a building block of what’s to come, not only this year but in the future. We’re trying to build something really special, and the kids are believing in it. So, we’ve just got to keep moving forward. Next week’s another game, and it’ll be a big game, so we’ve got to be sure we’re ready to play.”
For the game, Hunsperger led the Blazers’ trio of 100-yard rushers with 145 yards and 3 touchdowns on 18 carries. Jennings piled up 114 yards and 2 TDs on 14 carries, while McKelvey notched 112 yards on 7 totes (16.0 yards-per-carry average).
The 8-0 Trailblazers will host 0-8 Blue Valley Northwest in the first round of the Kansas 6A football playoffs this Friday, October 26th. Kickoff is set for 7:00 P.M. at the Gardner-Edgerton District Activities Center.