Pete Logan
Special to The Gardner News
It took an NCAA Division 1-signee quarterback to end the Gardner-Edgerton High School football team’s spectacular season.
Blue Valley North senior QB Graham Mertz threw for 276 yards and 6 touchdowns Friday night as the defending State Champion Mustangs eliminated the Trailblazers, 49-28, at Gardner-Edgerton District Activities Center. The Mustangs improved to 8-3 on the season while the Blazers ended their incredible turnaround season at 10-1.
Mertz, a University of Wisconsin signee, made his presence known on the first play from scrimmage when he connected with senior wide receiver Cameron Burt for a 64-yard completion to the Gardner-Edgerton 2-yard line. On the game’s next play, Mertz hit freshman wide receiver Henry Martin with a 2-yard scoring strike. However, North’s extra point attempt went wide of the right goalpost, to keep the score at 6-0 twenty seconds into the contest.
The Blazers didn’t panic. Going with their reliable and efficient ground game, GEHS marched 60 yards on 14 plays and found the end zone when senior tailback Luke Jennings powered in his counter run from 2 yards out. When sophomore Caleb Calvin connected on his extra point, the Blazers had seized the lead at 7-6 with 4:43 left in the first quarter.
The Mustangs covered an attempted onside kick by the Blazers and took over with excellent field position at the GEHS 49. From there, it took Mertz just two plays to get North into the end zone again. An 18-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Robert Young put the visitors back on top. Still, the ensuing Mustang extra point bounced off the right goalpost and North was still within striking distance at 12-7 with 4:25 left in the first period.
The teams exchanged possessions to end the first quarter, but — on the Trailblazers’ first possession of the 2nd period — a shanked punt ended up giving the Mustangs the ball at the Gardner-Edgerton 19. On the very next play, Mertz again connected with Burt — this time on a 19-yard touchdown pass. The Mustangs’ 2-point conversion attempt was successful, and Blue Valley North held a 20-7 lead with 9:05 left in the half.
The Blazers had a chance to cut into the lead in the 2nd half. After taking over on their own 20, the Trailblazers marched 57 yards in 12 plays, but — on 4th-and-5 at the Mustangs’ 23 — the offense fell 3 yards short and turned the ball over on downs.
Blue Valley North opened the 2nd half with a pair of daggers. First, Mertz capped off a 6-play drive with a 1-yard scoring pass to senior wide receiver Erik Roberts to take a 28-7 lead (with a successful 2-point conversion). Then, after the Blazers had turned the ball over on downs on their own 27, Mertz punctuated a 5-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Burt, making the score 35-7.
Still, the Trailblazers were determined to show their grit. GEHS sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Ethan Reynolds took the ensuing Mustang kickoff at the Blazers’ 1-yard line and dashed through the North coverage for a 62-yard return to the defense’s 37. On the 5th play of the drive Gardner-Edgerton junior quarterback Teven McKelvey hit senior tight end Gage Gulley with a 15-yard pass over the middle for the Trailblazers’ second touchdown, making the score 35-14 with 2:14 left in the third quarter.
However, another Mertz TD pass — a 53-yarder to sophomore running back Ammon Thutmosei — ended the 3rd quarter scoring and put North up 42-14 heading into the final frame.
The GEHS offense took their opening offensive possession of the 4th quarter 74 yards on 12 plays, showing that they were not going to stop coming at the Mustangs. Senior fullback Jacob Hunsperger capped off the drive with a 7-yard scoring plunge on a dive play, and the Calvin PAT made the score 42-21 with 7:14 left in the game.
A Blazer turnover gave the Mustangs a very short field at the GEHS 4, for the next North possession. Senior running back Amauri Pesek-Hickson needed just one play to take it over from there to make the score 49-21.
Still, the Blazers were determined not to end the season on a down note. They took their final possession 57 yards on 13 plays, converting 3 third downs along the way. Jennings plowed into the end zone from 2 yards out on the drive’s final play, making the final score 49-28.
With the win, the Mustangs move on to the Kansas 6A State Championship Semi-Finals at Olathe North.
Despite losing, the Blazers again accumulated more than 300 yards rushing. Jennings was the GEHS workhorse on the night, carrying the ball 36 times for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns. McKelvey carried the ball 17 times for 98 yards and was 1-of-4 passing with 15 yards and a touchdown. Hunsperger carried the ball 19 times for 95 yards and a touchdown. In total, the Trailblazers rushed for 362 yards.
Though the loss ended the season for the Trailblazers, GEHS recorded one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Kansas 6A football history. The team rebounded from an 0-9 2017 season and had come into the 2018 campaign having lost 10 games in a row.