Pete Logan
The Gardner-Edgerton High School football jumped out to a huge lead, then had to overcome the turnover bug in the 2nd half, before finally putting away the Wichita South Titans, 37-13, Friday night in the first round of the KSHSAA 6A Football State Championship at the Gardner-Edgerton District Activities Center.
The Trailblazers were dominant in all three phases of the game — offense, defense, and special teams — in the 1st quarter of the contest, jumping out to a 23-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game, but then seemed to hit a wall — failing to score again until the 4th quarter. Part of the slow down was due to the fact that two GEHS senior offensive line starters, Jacob Foster and Alex Roaden, left the contest due to injuries. The Blazers also had to overcome 4 second half fumbles on offense, three of which they lost — one being a scoop-and-score by the Titan defense, and two coming inside the South 10-yard line as GEHS was driving to score. Still, Gardner-Edgerton was able to salt the game away with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to claim a convincing 24-point victory.
It was an auspicious start for the home team, as GEHS senior kicker Jake McClure’s “pooch” kickoff was muffed by the Titans and recovered by the Blazers’ sophomore running back Kyle Oatman at the South 31-yard line. Three plays later, Gardner-Edgerton senior tailback Davonte Pritchard took a crossbuck carry from left to right and dashed 23 yards for a touchdown. With the McClure extra point, the Trailblazers took a 7-0 lead just over a minute into the contest.
The Blazer defense forced a 3-and-out on the Titans’ first possession, then — on the South punt — Gardner-Edgerton senior defense end Austin Weiner broke through the visitors’ line and blocked the kick out of the end zone for a safety and a 9-0 lead with 9:17 remaining in the first frame.
The Titans then kicked off from their own 20, and — after a 16-yard McClure return — the Blazers took over on the South 48-yard line. It took the Trailblazers just five plays to score — on a 26-yard rollout pass to the right from freshman quarterback Asher Weiner to senior wide receiver Ethan Reynolds. After the McClure PAT, the score was 16-0 Blazers with 6:45 left in the 1st quarter.
Another Titan three-and-out gave Gardner-Edgerton the ball back at the South 41. The Trailblazers then engaged on a seven-play scoring drive that culminated in a three-yard touchdown run on a sweep to the right by sophomore quarterback Conner Elder. With the McClure extra point, the Blazer lead grew to 23-0 with 2:35 left in the first quarter.
However, with the 2nd injury to the starting Trailblazer line, things changed in the second quarter. The Blazers had a long drive that ended with GEHS having to quick kick on a fourthth-and-20, giving the Titans the ball on their own 26. From there, South used an efficient rushing and passing mix to get inside the Blazer 10 with a 1st-and-goal from the three-yard line. Three plays later, the Titans faced a 4th-and goal from 10, when South junior quarterback T.J. Neal found junior wide receiver Dialo Watson on a fade route in the back left corner of the end zone for a TD. The Titans converted on the extra point, to make the score 23-7 going into halftime.
Neither team was able to score on their first possession of the seconnd half, but the Blazers had moved the ball from their own 23 to the South 44 in the first four plays of their second possession. On 2nd-and-4 from the Titan 44, South forced a Blazer fumble that was scooped up by junior free safety Dameion Beaver who scampered 54 yards to the end zone for the second South touchdown of the night. The Titans were unable to convert the PAT however, leaving the score 23-13 with 3:38 left in the 3rd quarter.
The next two GEHS possessions of the contest (starting in the thirdrd quarter and going into the 4th) both ended with the Trailblazers coughing up the ball inside the Titan 10 and South pouncing on the ball. Yet the Blazer defense held fast, holding the Titans to just two yards in their first two possessions of the fourth quarter. Finally, after the Titans were backed up to their own 1 and a short punt gave the ball to Gardner-Edgerton at the South 20, the Blazers were able to break through offensively. On the fifh play of the ensuing drive, GEHS junior fullback Carter Dewey bulled in from the two-yard line for the Blazers 4th touchdown of the night, making the score 30-13 with 5:18 left in the game.
Another poor South punt on the Titans’ next possession gave the Trailblazers the ball at the visitors’ 20. Three plays later, Gardner-Edgerton junior tailback Garrett Bergmann took a crossbuck carry from right-to-left to go into the end zone from 1-yard out, giving the Blazers their final margin of victory at 37-13.
Pritchard led the way offensively for GEHS with 80 rushing yards and 1 TD on 10 carries. Dewey carried the ball 15 times for 63 yards and one touchdown, junior tailback Tyler Butash contributed 45 rushing yards on 11 carries to go with one reception for 21 yards, and Bergmann ran for 42 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. At quarterback, Asher Weiner was 4-of-10 passing for 94 yards and one touchdown. Besides Butash, the other Weiner receiving targets included senior wide receiver Drew Cassida, who had one catch for 28 yards, Reynolds with one catch for 26 yards and a TD, and senior tight end Austin Weiner with 1 reception for 19 yards.
At his defensive end position, Austin Weiner set the tone for the Trailblazer defense with two tackles-for-loss, one pass breakup, and one punt block for a safety on special teams. Hayden Dyer, the other GEHS senior defensive end, racked up 2 ½ sacks for the Blazer D, while McClure (as a defensive back) recorded 1 ½ tackles-for-loss, and junior cornerback Lucas Anderson had two pass breakups.
With the win, the Trailblazers improved to 5-2 on the year, and will travel to Western Division fourth-seeded Derby High School for their second round matchup.