Pete Logan
You could see it coming.
Over the past few weeks, fans of the Gardner-Edgerton High School football team could see the improvements in a team that, three weeks ago, had suffered their worst loss of the season to Olathe North. Since that game, the Trailblazers had been in slugfests with Olathe South and Lawrence Free State. Though those games were losses for the Blazers, the GEHS gridders had shown they were building on something — staying within one score of their opponents at each game’s final whistle.
On Oct. 1 those steady improvements paid off in a 35-28 Gardner-Edgerton victory over Olathe Northwest at Gardner-Edgerton District Activities Center during Homecoming Weekend.
After the game, Trailblazer head coach Jesse Owen spoke about what the victory meant to his squad.
“I told the boys I’m ecstatic for them,” said Owen. “I’m not any more proud of them than I have been the past few weeks, just because the outcome was different. I’m just happy that they got to experience and reap the rewards of all their great effort. I’ve been proud of them the last few weeks because they’ve steadily and incrementally been improving, and that’s because their attitude has been great.”
The Blazers flexed their offensive muscle via the ground game right from the outset of the contest. On the game’s first play from scrimmage, GEHS senior quarterback Jake McClure took a carry wide around the right end of his offensive line for a 24-yard gain. On the next play, junior tailback Kyle Oatman took a pitch on the left side for a 14-yard gain that put Garner-Edgerton into Olathe Northwest territory with a 1st down at the Ravens’ 42-yard line. Facing a 4th-and-8 at the ONW 40, Traiblazer senior fullback Carter Dewey took a dive carry over the right guard for an 11-yard gain. A personal foul on Olathe Northwest added 15 more yards to the play, and the Blazers were in the red zone with a first-and-10 at the Northwest 15. Five plays later, McClure followed his pulling offensive linemen around the right end again and plunged in for a 3-yard touchdown run. McClure added the extra point to his own TD, and the Blazers led 7-0 with 6:38 left in the 1st quarter.
However, the Ravens weren’t about to just fade away. A strong kickoff return gave ONW the ball at the 50 for their first possession. From there, it took the Olathe Northwest offense just five plays to score. Northwest senior quarterback Zayne Wilson took the ball over the right side of his offensive line from three yards out to punctuate the drive with a touchdown. After the Ravens’ senior kicker CJ Elrichs kicked the PAT, the score was tied at 7-7 with 5:09 remaining in the quarter.
With their next possession, the Blazers showed off their big-play capabilities when, on third-and-two from the Gardner-Edgerton 38, GEHS senior tailback Lucas Anderson took a pitch from McClure to the right side, found a seam, and then out-sprinted his pursuers on the way to a 62-yard touchdown run. The McClure conversion gave GEHS a 14-7 edge with 3:15 left to play in the first quarter.
The Trailblazer defense forced a three-and-out by the Ravens on their next possession. However, the ONW punt was mishandled by the Blazers and pounced on by Wilson, who was playing on the punt coverage team for Northwest. The Ravens took over with a 1st-and-10 at the Blazer 15 after the recovery, and — two plays later — evened the score at 14-14 when Wilson took a quarterback option into the end zone from 11 yards out. The game was tied at 14-14, heading into the second quarter.
On the next Gardner-Edgerton drive, the Blazers pounded away at the middle of the Ravens’ defensive line for six plays, before they flashed their quick-strike ability again. On first-and-10 from the GEHS 42, Oatman took a pitch to the left and used his speed to outpace all of the Olathe Northwest defenders on his way to a 58-yard touchdown jaunt. With the McClure conversion, the Blazers took their third lead of the game at 21-14 with 9:05 left in the first half.
The Ravens responded with a long, grind-it-out scoring drive that moved 80 yards in 14 plays. Once again, Wilson put the exclamation point on the campaign with an eight-yard touchdown run on an option keeper to the left. After the Elrichs extra point, the game was tied at 21-21 as the first half came to a close.
Olathe Northwest had a chance to seize control of the game in the second half, as they received the opening kickoff of the third quarter. However, in large part thanks to a quarterback sack by GEHS junior safety Zaine Mayfield, the Trailblazers forced a three-and-out on Northwest’s first possession of the third quarter. After the Ravens’ punt, the Blazers took over with excellent field position at their own 49-yard line.
Six plays later, McClure went on a bootleg rollout to his left and found junior tight end Austin Buie wide open crossing the middle of the field for a 22-yard TD pass. After another McClure PAT, Gardner-Edgerton had their fourth lead of the night at 28-21 with 6:17 left in the 3rd quarter.
However, the Ravens were able to answer once again. Olathe Northwest responded with a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Northwest junior fullback Eric Butler finished the drive with a five-yard touchdown run on a counter right carry and Elrichs provided the extra point to once again knot the score — this time at 28-28 with 1:12 left in the third quarter.
The Trailblazers were forced to punt on their first possession of the final quarter, and it appeared as if Olathe Northwest was ready to seize their first lead late in the period. After driving 56 yards in 8 plays, the visitors were in the red zone with a 2nd-and-3 at the GEHS 16. However, on the next play, Trailblazer senior cornerback Eli Porter jarred the ball loose from the Ravens’ ball carrier and the Blazers recovered with a 1st-and-10 at their own 10-yard line.
Two plays later, on 3rd-and-6 from the Gardner-Edgerton 14, Anderson took the ball on an end-around carry from left to right and dashed 60 yards to the Olathe Northwest 26. Three plays after that, GEHS faced a third-and-six at the Northwest 22 with 2:11 left to play in the contest. After a Traiblazer timeout, the Blazers lined up in their normal “flexbone” formation and appeared to be ready to attempt a third down conversion with another rushing play. However, at the last second, the team switched into a “spread” formation and McClure dropped into a shotgun position. As the Raven defense tried to adjust, the ball was snapped, and McClure once again found Buie for a go-ahead 22-yard touchdown pass. After McClure notched the extra point, the Blazers had their fifth lead at 35-28 with 2:06 left in the game.
After just pulling off one surprise with the spread formation and shotgun snap, Gardner-Edgerton decided to pull one more shocker and utilized an onside kick on the kickoff. The McClure kick bounced right off the Olathe Northwest front line of the kickoff return team and into McClure’s hands, giving the Blazers the ball once again. After Dewey provided the home team with a run for a crucial 1st down, Gardner-Edgerton was able to run out the clock and claim their first win of the season.
“I just feel so good for everybody here,” McClure said after the game. “We’ve had a great attitude. We’ve never put our heads down. We just kept pushing through practice every day, even though we started 0-4. We got a win, and we’re going to keep it rolling next week. We had to play physical too. So we played physical, played clean, and got it done.”
Offensively, the Trailblazers were paced by Anderson who carried the ball seven times for 156 yards (22.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown, while Dewey collected 20 totes for 92 yards. Oatman carried the ball five times for 86 yards (17.2 yards per carry) and a TD, and McClure carried the ball nine times for 30 yards and one touchdown, while going three-for-four passing for 62 yards and two touchdowns.
With the win, the Trailblazers improved to 1-4 on the season.