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Wichita, KS-Wichita Coach Paco Martinez never bought into the fact that his team had a mental edge over Dodge City despite winning their four previous meetings with the Law.
Through two and half quarters on Saturday night, Wichita was definitely in Dodge City’s head. But the final 20 minutes proved that all it takes is one fortuitous play to wake a sleeping giant. The rest will go down in Law lore.
Marquis Deadwiler caught eight passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, Daniel McKinney ran in the go- ahead score with 3:22 to play, and Dodge City overcame a 22-point, second-half deficit to beat Wichita 42-39 at Intrust Bank Arena. It was the Law’s first victory over the Force/Wild franchise.
“You never stop playing,” Dodge City Head Coach Sean Ponder said. “We just had to make some plays, and we finally did.”
The Law trailed 29-14 at half and 36-14 with 9:40 to play in the third. But the game swung mightily on a fourth-down play that was reminiscent of the Philadelphia Eagles fourth-and-26 conversion against the Green Bay Packers in the 2004 playoffs.
After a 15-yard, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that got running back Ricky Lewis tossed from the game, the Law was facing a fourth-and-goal from the Force 24. Then the miracle play.
“We needed something to get us going,” defensive back Tuff Johnson said.
Rudy Johnson, who struggled through most of the first half, dropped back and delivered a laser down the middle of the field. Kendrick Harper, who victimized the rookie quarterback with a 40-yard interception return in the second quarter, was in prime position in the end zone to make the interception. But the ball went right through his hands and was snagged by wide receiver Rashad Pargo along the back wall for a touchdown.
“We had to have that score,” Johnson said. “The rest, our defense took care of.”
Johnson and his mates were incredible in the second half. They held the defending league champs to just 52 total yards over the final 30 minutes and just eight in the final period.
“I’ve been saying it all along how good our defense is,” Ponder said. “That was an unbelievable effort. That may have been one of the best defensive performances I’ve seen in a long time.”
That defense limited the Force to just a field goal over the final 17:40 of the contest while Ponder’s offense finally got in gear.
With Lewis out, McKinney transitioned from receiver to running back. The move paid dividends early in the fourth when the second-year star capped off a 10-play, 25-yard drive with a one-yard plunge. Dodge City (2-0) added the two-point conversion to close the gap to 39-28 with 12:23 to play.
“These guys just kept fighting,” Ponder said. “We adjusted very well in the second half.”
Following Luke Prey’s missed 35-yard field goal, the Law was back in the end zone less than two minutes later. Deadwiler created separation in the secondary and Johnson found him in stride, wide open down the middle for a 35-yard touchdown. The Law missed out on the two-point conversion when Harper swatted away Johnson’s pass at the goal line, but Dodge City had pulled to within five 39-34 with 8:05 remaining.
Wichita’s (1-1) next drive ended in disaster when Prey’s 55-yard field goal sailed out of bounds before reaching the end zone, giving Dodge City the ball at midfield.
Johnson and McKinney took it from there.
The first-year signal caller connected with Pargo for 12 yards that moved the ball to the Wichita 13. Three plays later, McKinney powered off left guard for a four-yard score. Johnson then hit Brandon Venson for a two pointer, and Dodge City had their first lead of the night 42-39 with 3:22 to go.
“It says a lot about this team that we were able to come back,” Ponder said.
Wichita still had time and all three timeouts. They even got bailed out on a questionable pass-interference penalty called on E.J. Johnson in the end zone that gave the Force the ball at the 5 with 14 seconds to go. But Law linebacker Ricky Wyatt broke Wichita’s back, sacking quarterback Jake Medlock at the 20. With no timeouts, Medlock raced his team back to the line. But as he took the snap, the referees called a false start, short circuiting the Force’s comeback attempt.
“To beat the league champs in their building says something,” Ponder said. “Our defense changed the game in the second half. It was just incredible.”
Nothing went right for Dodge City in the first half. Hereon Oneil’s defense forced two first-quarter turnovers but never took advantage. Then Jason Catchings blocked Jared Wood’s 55-yard field goal, and Wichita recovered it in the end zone for a 2-0 lead.
They stretched that to 9-0 when Tyler Batts raced in from 13 yards out.
Dodge City answered with a six-play, 33-yard march that ended with Kamalie Matthews’s 11-yard rushing touchdown. But Wood’s extra point bounced off the left upright, and the Law trailed 9-6 with 1:08 left in the first.
Medlock pushed the Force’s lead to 10 when he found Brett Soft for a 20-yard touchdown before the Law answered with Travis Taylor’s end zone sack for a safety that cut the deficit to eight. Dodge City trimmed it two when Lewis scampered off right guard for a six-yard touchdown.
The Force responded by scoring the final 13 points of the half. Medlock scrambled for a three-yard touchdown before Harper’s 40-yard interception setup Batts second rushing score of night: a five-yard sprint to the end zone that put Wichita up 29-14 at the break.
Wichita thought they added the knockout blow early in the third quarter once Medlock hit Chris Anderson for a 33-yard touchdown up the right sideline. On the play, Anderson made a two-handed, helmet-high grab against Tyrell Green before tumbling over the wall.
Johnson finished 21-32 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for Dodge City. He was 11-of-16 for 126 yards in the second half. Pargo added five catches for 51 and a score and McKinney snagged four balls for 49.
Medlock was 10-of-15 for 93 yards, two touchdowns and a first-quarter, end zone interception for the Force, who lost for only the fourth time at home in their last 35 games. Batts tallied 68 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and (Chris) Anderson had two catches for 38 and a score.
Next up: Dodge City at Salina-Saturday, March 18-6 p.m. pregame; 6:35 p.m. kick on 98.1 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kskz and KSKZ mobile app
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