Pete Logan
The Gardner-Edgerton High School football team piled up 339 yards in rushing Saturday afternoon against Olathe South at Olathe District Activities Center. They would need every one of those yards as they overcame four turnovers and over 100 yards in penalties and claimed a 31-24 season-opening overtime victory over the Falcons.
The disjointed opening of the season in which the Trailblazers held two practices before COVID-19 interrupted their season, then were able to come together again two weeks later, played a major role in the errors that almost cost them the victory, according to their head coach.
“I was pretty sure this is what the situation would be,” said Ryan Cornelsen, GEHS head immediately after the game. “We’ve got a lot of young players. After our second practice, we shut down — and six of our starters transferred. So, what we worked on all summer got thrown out of our plan. So, we’ve been scrambling ever since to try and figure things out. This is what we needed — to come in here and play and get through some of those mistakes and start learning from them. You don’t lose that many kids and — all of a sudden — things aren’t any different. We saw some of those situations, but I was very proud of them. These kids stuck it out and battled through a lot of adversity and a lot of frustration and found a way to win.”
The game began in the manner of many Trailblazer games in the past two years — with the defense holding the opposing team to a three-and-out and the offense building a long drive deep into the Falcons’ territory. In 8 plays, GEHS had taken their season-opening drive and had a 4th-and-1 at the South 2-yard line. However, a fumbled snap on the next play was recovered by Olathe South, and they took over on their own 3. The Falcons then proceeded to march 97 yards in 8 plays (helped by a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the Blazers) and scored on an 18-yard reverse by sophomore running back Amarion Johnson. When South senior kicker Adam Young added the extra point, OSHS held a 7-0 lead with 2:00 remaining in the 1st quarter.
The Trailblazers asserted their will on the responding drive. The offense went on a 5-play, 72-yard drive that culminated in freshman quarterback Asher Weiner connecting on a pretty 31-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Ethan Reynolds on the first play of the 2nd quarter. When junior kicker Jake McClure added the PAT, the score was tied at 7-7 with 11:55 remaining until halftime.
The Falcons responded quickly with a 5-play, 49-yard scoring drive that was aided by a 40-yard run by South sophomore running back Eric Butler. OSHS senior quarterback Reed Smith punctuated the drive with a 2-yard quarterback keeper for a TD from the shotgun. The Young extra point made the score 14-7 South with 9:32 left in the 2nd quarter.
On the next three possessions, the Trailblazers would have three scoring opportunities nullified by turnovers and penalties.
On the Blazers’ first possession after the Smith touchdown, the GEHS offense moved 61 yards in six plays to get down to the Falcons’ 15-yard line. However, an interception by Butler (now playing defensive back for South) and returned to the OSHS 22 ended the threat. Four plays later, the Blazers’ Reynolds — now at defensive back himself — intercepted a Smith pass and sprinted 54 yards for the apparent score. However, a holding penalty disqualified the TD, and the Blazers took over on their opponents’ 24. Three plays later, with a 1st-and-10 at the South 13 a fumbled handoff exchange by the Trailblazers gave OSHS the ball back at their own 14-yard line.
GEHS managed to force a punt from the Falcons on the next possession and took over at the 50-yard line with 2:03 left in the half. Three plays later, Weiner took a quarterback keeper from the 15 wide to the right side of the field and went all the way in for the score. The McClure extra point tied the game at 14-14 going into halftime.
The Blazer miscues continued into the 2nd half. The first offensive Gardner-Edgerton possession of the 2nd half ended in a fumble, while the 2nd (which moved all the way down to the Falcons’ 9) ended in a turnover on loss of downs. But the Trailblazer defense was up to the task. They forced a three-and-out on the OS 1st possession of the half and then forced a turnover of their own on South’s next offensive series when GEHS defensive end Gus Davis pounced on a Falcon fumbled snap at the South 9. On the very next play, Trailblazer senior tailback Davonte Pritchard powered into the end zone, and the Blazers led 21-14 with 3:31 left in the 3rd quarter.
The Falcons answered with their first possession of the 4th quarter. On the third play of the drive, a Pritchard (now playing linebacker for the Blazers) appeared to force a 4th-and-23 for South. However, a personal foul against GEHS after the play turned the next down into a 4th-and-8 for the Falcons from the Blazer 41. On the next play, OSHS senior tailback Eli Ngayenga took a reverse 41 yards to the end zone, and the Young extra point tied the game at 21-21 with 9:49 remaining in the game.
GEHS responded with a 9-play, 53-yard drive that received a major boost on a 26-yard rush by Blazer junior tailback Tyler Butash. The South defense stopped the Gardner-Edgerton offensive progress at the Falcons’ 18, but McClure ended the march with a 35-yard field goal that put the Trailblazers up 24-21 with 5:26 left in the game.
The Falcons were determined to answer and took the final possession 80 yards on 13 plays — aided by 21 yards in GEHS penalties and a miracle 4th-and-19 pass completion that was tipped by two Blazer defenders. Finally, with two seconds left, Young punched through a 23-yard field goal to tie the game at 24-24 heading into overtime.
Gardner-Edgerton found a new gear in OT when they took the ball first. From the Falcon 10-yard line Butash raced into the endzone on a crossbuck carry from right to left on his squad’s only offensive play of the extra period. McClure’s PAT made the score 31-24 Trailblazers.
When OSHS took their first possession, they were knocked back 5 yards on their first play when Blazer senior linebacker Austin Weiner and senior defensive back Drew Cassida brought down Ngayenga in the backfield. The Falcons soon faced a 4th-and-14 from the Blazer 14, but Smith could only complete a 6-yard completion to senior tight end Tyler Wilburn before Pritchard brought him down to end the game.
“I felt that — all game long — we were just shooting ourselves in the foot,” Cornelsen said when asked about his team’s overtime defensive stand. “We just finally had four downs when we didn’t cost ourselves. That’s just playing team defense. We’re awfully young, but we’re going to get better.”
Butash led the offensive attack for the victors, with 147 yards of rushing and one touchdown on 16 carries (9.2 yards per carry). Junior fullback Dewey Carter added 70 yards on 10 totes, while Pritchard collected 63 yards and a TD on 10 carries. Cassida added one carry at tailback for 19 yards, while junior tailback Garrett Bergman tallied 10 yards on 2 carries. From the quarterback position, Asher Weiner had 3 carries for 30 yards and a touchdown and also went 5-of-9 passing for 84 yards, with 1 TD and 1 interception. Reynolds led all receivers with two catches for 70 yards and a score, and sophomore wide receiver Conner Elder had 1 catch for 11 yards.
Defensively, the Trailblazers were paced by Pritchard with 3 tackles-for-loss with 1 sack, sophomore linebacker Ozzy Poage with 1 ½ tackles-for-loss, and Austin Weiner with 1 ½ tackles-for-loss.
The Trailblazers are now 1-0 on the young season.