Dodge City, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-During a four-game stretch from March to early April, Dodge City churned out one of the most efficient offenses in the league; turning the ball over just twice. In direct contrast; in their last 16 quarters, they’ve turned into a giveaway machine; handing the opposition 12 free possessions and posting a minus-4 turnover differential.
The end result: back-to-back losses for the first time in the Josh-Floyd era.
“You can’t turn the football over and expect to win games in this league,” Law Coach Sean Ponder said. “And we’ve had some stupid turnovers.”
Add two more backbreaking interceptions Saturday night compounded by Chris Coffin’s six-touchdown performance, including the game winner to Anthony Parks with 14 seconds remaining, as Salina held on for a 55-48 victory at United Wireless Arena.
“We didn’t play well from the start,” Ponder said. “We scouted this team very well, but guys weren’t playing assignment football. We’ll have to go back and watch it, but I can tell you guys were out of position all night.”
Unlike their first meeting back on April 4 where Coffin was harassed all night long, the 39-year old gunslinger had time to throw, totaling 203 yards through the air and tossing four, second-half touchdowns.
“He (Coffin) played well,” Ponder said. “But we didn’t help ourselves at all.”
After taking a 7-0 lead on Dominique Carson’s five-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter, Salina’s top-ranked offense, which had been held in check during their three-game losing streak, came to life.
Following Jeff Mack’s 41-yard kickoff return, it only took the Bombers (5-4) three plays to reach pay dirt when Quentin Benning took a handoff from Coffin at the 4-yard line, pinballed off of Jamar Seard and spun his way into the end zone to tie the game.
On Dodge City’s next possession, which started at the Bombers 24, Floyd, who finished the night 12-of-20 for 138 yards, two touchdowns and two picks, threw a pass across his body that was intercepted by Demonte Horton and returned to the Bombers 20.
Despite moving the ball inside the Law 5 after Coffin’s 20-yard completion to Parks, Dodge City’s defense stiffened, forcing a short field goal attempt. But Marquis George knifed his way through and swatted away Terry Stecker’s 21-yard attempt.
“We made some big plays on special teams tonight,” Ponder said. “We’ve been able to do that with consistency this season.”
Salina would eventually grab the lead back when Alex Fambrough missed a 63-yard field goal that was returned by Isaiah Barfield to the Law 23. Five plays later, Coffin connected with O.J. Simpson for a 10-yard scoring strike, putting the Bombers in front 14-7 on the final play of the first quarter.
Dodge City (6-3) drew even just a few minutes later, putting a stamp on an eight play, 34-yard drive with Carson’ second rushing touchdown of the night: a one-yard plunge that tied the game at 14.
Then Salina delivered a counter punch, driving 29 yards in four minutes. On first-and-goal from the 1, Coffin hit Parks on a quick out to the left and watched as the former Oklahoma State star corralled it against his chest for a touchdown. Stecker’s extra point was blocked, and the Bombers led 20-14 with 5:22 left in the half.
“I coached Parks in Fairbanks; so I was fully aware of his ability,” Ponder said. He played well. Give him credit.”
When Dodge City got the ball back, they were staring at a third down from their own 20. What happened next can only be described as magical.
On third-and-5, Floyd was flushed out of the pocket. As he cocked back to throw, he was hit by Brandon Harold, making the ball flutter into the secondary. Barfield undercut the route and had a clear shot for a room-service interception. But as he settled under it, the ball bounced off of his left arm and right into the hands of Dello Davis in the back of the end zone. Fambrough booted through the PAT, and the Law had a 21-20 advantage with 2:58
The euphoria was short lived. Coffin sliced through the Dodge City defense on their next possession with back-to-back completions for 16 yards. Then on second-and-10 from the Law 13, the veteran quarterback scrambled untouched to the end zone to give Salina a 27-21 edge going into the locker room.
“Our defense was spotty; we gave up too many big plays,” Ponder said. “They took advantage of that.”
Inconsistent yes, but Dodge City did get a big stop early in the third. On fourth-and-1 from the Salina 14, Coffin’s screen pass to Benning fell incomplete, giving Dodge City their best starting field position of the night.
The Law took full advantage two plays later. Floyd hit Davis up the seam for a 10-yard touchdown, and after Fambrough converted on the Pat, Dodge City had a 28-27 lead. It’s the last time they were in the driver’s seat.
Coffin hit Parks for a two-yard score midway through the third to push Salina back in front before Dodge City had their chance to retake command. But after Kingjack Washington scampered in from one yard out following Floyd’s 25-yard hookup with Davis, Fambrough’s extra point hit the left upright, leaving the score tied at 34.
“More missed opportunities,” Ponder said shaking his head. “We definitely left some points out there.”
Later in the period, Coffin hit Simpson up the left sideline on a play where most everyone in the building, including the Law defense, believed the ball was incomplete. But Simpson hauled in the pass, got to his feet before anyone could touch him and raced 32 yards for the go-ahead score.
“What do you do on a play like that?” Ponder asked. “The guy made a great play.”
Dodge City answered the bell, driving 31 yards in nine plays, which included a big third-down conversion when Carson ran for six yards to the Bombers 7. Then, after Floyd’s third-down pass for Odie Rush sailed incomplete in the back of the end zone, Ponder rolled the dice and went for it on fourth down. It paid off.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Floyd lined up in the shotgun with Carson on his left hip and three receivers to the right. In passing formation, Salina never adjusted, allowing Carson to take the handoff and wiggle free for a three-yard touchdown to knot the score at 41. The league’s second-leading rusher totaled a season-best 84 yards on the ground, 64 of those coming in the second half.
But Dodge City’s problems lied on defense, and the next time Salina had the ball, it only took them four plays to reach the end zone. The capper: Coffin’s fifth touchdown pass of the night; a 17-yard rope down the sideline to Jared Elmore with 12:40 to go in the contest that put the bombers up 48-41.
The Law appeared to be driving for the game-tying score on their ensuing possession only to have Floyd force a pass into double coverage at the goal line that was intercepted by Barfield.
On life support, Dodge City caught a break with less than five minutes to play when Cashmin Thomas stripped Benning of the football. Jacorey Quarterman recovered, and the Law had new life.
Seven plays later, Carson was in the end zone on the heels of his fourth rushing touchdown. Fambrough added the extra point, and the game was tied at 48 with 57 seconds.
“We had our chance to win this game,” Ponder said. “They just made more plays than we did.”
Dodge City’s most costly mistake came in the third quarter, when they burned all three of their timeouts in a 12-minute span. Salina on the other hand, had all of theirs as they began working from the 16 with 50 seconds to go.
Coffin made it look easy, hitting Simpson for 11 and Parks for 13 down to the Dodge City 10. After a six-yard completion to Elmore moved the ball to the Law 4, most everyone in the building expected the Bombers to run the ball and kick the game-winning field goal. But Salina Coach Bob Ray defied conventional wisdom and decided put the game on his quarterback’s shoulders. The end result was Coffin firing a slant to Parks for a touchdown with 14 seconds.
Dodge City still had one more chance after Carson ran the ensuing kickoff back to midfield. But Floyd’s second-down heave sailed out of the back of the end zone, putting Salina right back into the already crowded playoff picture.
“The good thing is we’re still in first place,” Ponder explained. “But we have a lot of things to correct. And we will; you can count on that.”
Dodge City’s top rushing attack was nonexistent for the first 30 minutes, totaling minus-3 yards on 13 carries. They also allowed a season-high five sacks, four of those coming in the first half.
“There was always one guy coming free, who forced Floyd to step up all night,” Ponder said. “You can’t have that and expect your offense to run the way it should.”
Davis reeled in six balls for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Venson had four catches for 15 yards, while Jamie January had one catch for 16 yards and Zach McClain one for 10.
Benning carried the ball six times for 11 yards and a touchdown for the Bombers. Coffin had four carries for 32 yards and a score. Simpson caught a game-high nine passes for 86 yards and three touchdowns. Parks, whose football career was in doubt during his days at Oklahoma State because of a condition where he was born with only one kidney, hauled in seven balls for 67 yards and three touchdowns.
Notes: Despite their second straight loss, Dodge City held on to first place after Wichita lost at Sioux City…Floyd threw his first interception since the Duke City game…Salina ended the franchise’s first three-game losing streak…Dodge City has now allowed 19 sacks this season-that’s tied for second most in the league only behind San Angelo’s 24…Dodge City fell to 3-2 at home this season
Next up: at Wichita, Friday, May 7-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7:05 p.m. kickoff on 98.1 FM; westernkansasnews.com; mobile app: KSKZ and tuneinradio app: KSKZ