Pete Logan

The Gardner Edgerton High School football team battled back from a 14-point first half deficit, and racked up over 400 yards to defeat visiting Blue Valley West, 21-14, and claim an Eastern Kansas 6A Sectional Championship Friday night at Gardner Edgerton District Activities Center. The win earned the Trailblazers a berth in the 6A State Championship semifinals.
After his team came out victorious in a grueling, physical matchup against the visiting Jaguars, Trailblazer head coach Jesse Owen spoke about what the win meant for his program in just his second year at the GEHS helm.
“I’m proud of our guys,” began Owen said. “I’m happy for our school and our community. I’m happy for guys like Coach (Jason) Radel. Our guys got pretty pretty dinged up and beat up tonight. We had a couple of guys leave the game – couldn’t come back in. We had several guys that fought hard to stay in the game because it was that important to them. I just love coaching them.”
The game started with GEHS establishing momentum with the game’s first offensive possession. In just four plays, Gardner Edgerton moved the ball from their own 38-yard line to the Jaguars’ 14. However, on 1st-and-10 from that marker, the Trailblazers fumbled a quarterback/fullback handoff exchange. Blue Valley West senior linebacker Josh Kidd then scooped up the fumble and scrambled 75 yards for the contest’s opening touchdown. BVW senior kicker John Michael Pujado converted the extra point, to give the Jaguars a 7-0 lead with 9:53 left in the 1st quarter.
The Blazers then went back to work to regain the momentum and were well on their way, after 10 offensive plays had moved them from their own 29 and given them a 1st-and-goal at the Blue Valley West 3-yard line. However, three consecutive GEHS offensive penalties marched them back to the 27 – still with a 1st-and-goal. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-goal from the 18, Gardner Edgerton sophomore quarterback Bravin Powell tried to find an open receiver in the end zone but was intercepted by BVW senior defensive back Jack Schneider. Though the result of the interception was a touchback for the Jaguars, a Trailblazer personal foul after the play gave the visitors the ball at their own 35. From there, BVW engaged in a 14-play 65-yard scoring drive that was punctuated when Jaguars’ senior quarterback Zach Darche found Schneider (now playing wide receiver) for a 3-yards touchdown pass. Following Pujado’s second point-after-touchdown kick, the Jags held a 14-0 lead with 11:02 left in the 2nd quarter.
Facing their first double-digit deficit of the playoffs, the Gardner Edgerton offense did not panic. Sticking to their ground game, the Trailblazers proceeded to march 77 yards in 11 plays for the home squad’s first score. GEHS junior tailback Dylan Butash helped pace the drive with a 29-yard carry on the campaign’s fourth play. On the drive’s 11th play, Traiblazer junior fullback Dawson Kindler plowed into the end zone from one yard out to put the home team on the board. On the ensuing PAT attempt, Blue Valley West was guilty of encroachment, which meant the ball was moved to just 1 ½ yards from the end zone, due to the penalty. Owen and the Blazer coaching staff then decided to attempt a 2-point conversion – a decision that paid off for them when Powell took a QB carry around the right end of his offensive line to give his squad an extra two points following the touchdown. Powell’s carry made the score 14-8 with 6:45 remaining in the 2nd quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, the GEHS special teams unit took down the Jaguars’ kick returner at the 13-yard line, and the visitors only moved backwards from there. Four plays later, the Jags were forced to punt from their own 5-yard line, giving Gardner Edgerton the ball at the BVW 46. 10 plays later, on 1st-and goal from the Jaguar 17, Powell rolled out on a bootleg to his right where he connected with Kindler on a 17-yard touchdown pass. After junior kicker Owen Dye notched the conversion, the Blazers took a 15-14 lead into the intermission.
Blue Valley West took the opening possession of the 2nd half and began to effectively move the ball down field, moving the ball 44 yards in 8 plays to the GEHS 29. However, on 2nd-and 24, a Darche attempted touchdown pass was picked off by Gardner Edgerton junior cornerback Randy Singleton at the goal line, and he returned the ball 40 yards upfield. Though a Trailblazer block in the back penalty moved the ball back to the 19, the Blazer defense had nullified the threat.
At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Jaguars engaged in another offensive campaign that brought them from their own 28 to the GEHS 20 in just four plays. However, two plays later, another Darche pass was intercepted at the goal line, this time by Gardner Edgerton junior cornerback Cameron Porter, who returned the ball 29 yards and gave the home team their first 4th quarter possession at the Traiblazer 29. Ten plays later, Kindler once again barreled into the end zone from a yard out for his third TD of the game. However, the Blazers failed to convert a 2-point conversion following the touchdown, leaving the score at 21-14 with 7:29 remaining in the contest.
After the ensuing kickoff, BVW once again moved the ball efficiently down field, moving the ball from their own 29 to the GEHS 27-yard line in 8 plays. On 2nd-and-10 from the 27, however, the Gardner Edgerton defense came up with its most clutch play of the night. After Darche handed the ball off to junior tailback Sage Huffman for a carry to the left side of the Jaguar offense. Trailblazer senior quarterback Ozzy Poage sliced into the backfield and forced a fumble from Huffman. In the ensuing scramble, Poage pounced on the ball and gave GEHS possession with 2:26 remaining in the game. On 3rd-and-2 from the Jags’ 45-yard line and 1:27 remaining in the contest, Kindler delivered a game-sealing 4-yard carry for a 1st down, and GEHS had cemented a 21-14 victory and became one of the final four Kansas 6A teams remaining in the playoffs.
After the game Owen spoke about his team’s resiliency after being down 14-0.
“We try to emphasize daily staying kind of even keel,” stated Owen, “and not getting too high when things are going well or too low when things are going not going well, because things are usually not as bad as you think things are or as good as you think things are. So we try to preach that, and we try to practice like that. That’s very important in the playoffs because, in the playoffs, you can kind of feel that pressure. You can kind of see the end there. You know, if you lose a game, you go home, and sometimes that can creep in and affect your performance. Our guys did a tremendous job staying dialed in and making plays.”
Offensively, the Blazers put together perhaps their finest rushing performance of the season. Butash led all GEHS ball carriers with 197 yards rushing on 18 carries for a 10.9 yards-per-carry average. Kindler delivered yet another multi-touchdown performance as he toted the ball 30 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns, while also hauling in one reception for 17 yards and another TD. Powell delivered 79 rushing yards on 17 carries while also going 1-for-4 passing for 17 yards with 1 interception and 1 touchdown. Gardner Edgerton junior tailback Eli Porter also had two carries for 20 yards.
Defensively, it was hard to match Cameron Porter’s night for the Blazers. The junior cornerback delivered an interception return of 29 yards, 1 tackle-for-loss (-4 yards), a pass breakup, and a fumble recovery. Singleton delivered an interception return and another tackle-for-loss (-5 yards), Poage had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, and Eli Porter – playing safety for the Blazers – had 2 pass breakups.
GEHS will now host Olathe Northwest in the Kansas 6A Semifinals this Friday at Gardner-Edgerton District Activities Center at 7:05 P.M. The winner will represent the Eastern Division in the 6A State Championship game. The Derby Panthers and the Manhattan Indians will face off in the Western Division semifinal.