Photos courtesy of photoexpectations.com
Down 13-0 after one quarter of play, the Gardner-Edgerton High School football team staged a massive comeback — scoring 34 unanswered points on the way to a 41-20 victory over Dodge City in the 1st round of the Kansas 6A Football State Championship playoffs at Memorial Stadium in Dodge City on Friday night.
The Trailblazers’ running game amassed 335 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns on the night, using a mixture of punishing inside runs through the line of scrimmage and swift, slicing runs to the outside to keep the Red Demons’ defense on their heels from the 2nd quarter on.
Initially, it appeared that it was going to be a long night for the Blazers, as the speed and elusiveness of the DCHS skill players was difficult to contain. On the Red Demons’ first possession of the game, the Dodge offense marched 68 yards in 9 plays to score the game’s first touchdown. On the 9th play of the drive, Dodge City faced a 3rd-and-16 from the Gardner-Edgerton 31-yard line, when DCHS senior quarterback Tucker Smith found sophomore wide receiver Daelyn Unzueta, who outmaneuvered two GEHS defenders on his way to a 31-yard touchdown reception. After the Red Demons’ senior kicker Emanuel Aguilar notched the extra point, Dodge had a 7-0 lead with 7:29 left in the 1st quarter.
The Trailblazers were forced to punt on their opening offensive possession of the game, and a good return by Dodge City senior wide receiver Dylan Smith gave the home team excellent field position with a 1st-and-10 at their own 42. Five plays later, Tucker Smith connected with a different receiver — senior tight end Tyler Cox — for a 22-yard TD connection. On the ensuing extra point, Blazer junior defensive end Ozzy Poage broke through the line and blocked Aguilar’s PAT attempt, keeping the score at 13-0 with 2:25 left in the quarter.
GEHS took over again on offense and started their first successful march in the last 5 plays of the period and continued that campaign in the beginning of the 2nd quarter. Using punishing inside runs by senior fullback Carter Dewey and read-option runs from senior quarterback Jake McClure, the Trailblazers had moved the ball from their own 26-yard line to the Dodge 13. On 3rd-and-8 from that spot, McClure rolled out to his right and found junior tight end Austin Buie in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass. After McClure converted the extra point, the score was 13-7 with 7:42 left in the half.
On the next Red Demons’ possession, the Trailblazer defense forced a punt from the Gardner-Edgerton 44 yard line. However, the Dodge City snap sailed over the punter’s head. The Dodge punter was able to run down the ball and get a kick away, but it went out of bounds at the DCHS 39, making it a punt of net -17 yards. It then took the Blazer offense just two plays to score. On 2nd-and-4 from the Red Demons’ 33, McClure took a read option play around the right side of his line, dashed inside the 10, and then stiff-armed a Dodge City defender at the 5, and made his way to the end zone for Gardner-Edgerton’s 2nd touchdown on the night. After McClure converted the extra point, GEHS held a 14-13 lead with 4:18 in the half. It was a lead they would not relinquish.
Dodge City again made its way into Trailblazer territory on their next possession but were forced to turn the ball over on downs, giving the Blazers the ball at the Gardner-Edgerton 38. GEHS then marched the ball 62 yards in 10 plays, and punctuated the drive with another McClure read option run into the end zone — this time from 2 yards out. Despite missing the extra point, the Trailblazers went into the halftime break with a 20-13 advantage.
The Blazer offense took the first possession of the 2nd half, and — in 10 plays — marched the ball 80 yards for their 4th touchdown of the night. The drive culminated in a 43-yard TD run by McClure, who first faked a handoff up the middle, then took the ball around the right side and down the sideline for the score. After McClure kicked the PAT, Gardner-Edgerton led 27-13 with 7:07 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
The Blazer defense then forced a 3-and-out from the Dodge City offense, and GEHS took over at their own 46-yard line. Gardner-Edgerton then engaged on a time-grinding drive of 54 yards in 12 plays, punctuating the drive in the 4th quarter when Dewey carried the ball into the end zone from 3 yards out. After McClure’s next extra point, the score was 34-13 Trailblazers.
Dodge City had one more scoring drive left in them, marching 63 yards in 8 plays. The DCHS drive culminated when Tucker Smith again hit Dylan Smith with a touchdown pass — from 10 yards out — pulling to within 14 points at 34-20 with 7:00 left to play.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Red Demons attempted an onside kick, but their attempt was foiled when Buie covered the ball, giving the Blazers the ball at the 50-yard line. Three plays later, a 29-yard run by Gardner-Edgerton senior tailback Lucas Anderson gave GEHS a 1st-and-goal at the Dodge City 1. Dewey then scored his 2nd touchdown of the game on a 1-yard carry, to put the Traiblazers up 41-20 with 5:07 remaining in the game.
DCHS attempted one more scoring drive and moved the ball inside Blazer territory, but pass breakups by sophomore cornerback Elijah Porter, junior safety Eli Blazic, and junior outside linebacker Therron Meade eventually thwarted the Red Demons’ campaign and sealed the victory for Gardner-Edgerton.
Offensively, GEHS was led by McClure, who carried the ball 10 times for 131 yards (13.1 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns, while also going 3-for-3 passing for 26 yards and 1 TD. Dewey toted the ball 30 times for 128 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, and Anderson carried the ball 9 times for 70 yards. Sophomore wide receiver Randy Singleton caught 2 passes for 13 yards, while Buie had 1 reception for 13 yards and a touchdown.
Poage paced the Blazers defensively with two tackles-for-loss (including a 9-yard sack) and a blocked extra point, while Porter collected 3 pass breakups.
Gardner-Edgerton has now won 4 of their last 5 games and will travel to Manhattan this Friday for their 2nd round playoff game against the Indians.