April 14, 2024

Huge road win; Busters earn sloppy W in Iowa

Final Highlights: GCCC vs. Ellsworth

Game Stats: GCCC vs. Ellsworth

Iowa Falls, IA (westernkansasnews.com)-Sometimes certain things just can’t be explained. Saturday’s week three contest between Garden City and Ellsworth, would definitely fall under that category. 

Despite five turnovers; despite blowing a 21-7 second-quarter lead, and despite a season-high 14 penalties for 115 yards, the Busters still found a way to win a critical road game Saturday afternoon at Cadet Field 36-30. 

“We did enough things to lose the ball game again,” a relieved Head Coach Matt Miller said afterwards. “If we correct our warts, we’re going to be a pretty good football team.”

There was the good Buster team on Saturday; the one that showed so much promise-forcing six first-half turnovers and jumping out to a 14-point advantage. Then there was the not-so-good; the team that allowed two defensive touchdowns and had their quarterback running for his life for most of the second half. 

“You can’t keep teams in the ballgame,” Miller said. “When you have your foot on their throat, you have to finish the game and get it done.”

Miller watched a 21-10 halftime lead disintegrate when on Garden City’s first possession of the third quarter, Danarious Graham’s screen pass was intercepted by Angelo Sumler and returned 25 yards for a touchdown.

The cushion completely eroded just minutes later after the Busters turned the ball over on downs when Graham slipped on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 at his own 33. On the ensuing play, Tyrian Taylor motioned across the formation; took the handoff from Demarius Davis and lobbed a pass down the right sideline to a wide-open Demetrius Harper. The freshman made the catch in stride and glided past safety Sam Green for the score-giving the Panthers a 24-21 lead with 10:09 remaining in the period. 

“We had our opportunities to make big plays,” Miller said. “But we gave up a lot of big plays as well.”

Trailing for the first time all day, Garden City (2-1) drove right down the field-moving from their own 29 to the Ellsworth two. But it came at cost after Graham was knocked out of the game when defensive tackle Leonard Wright landed on top of the freshman signal caller-knocking the wind out of him. On fourth-and-goal at the one, backup Tyler Lasalle was stonewalled for no gain-giving the ball back to the Panthers. 

Garden City caught a huge break two plays later when a bad snap bounced past Davis and rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety. But the celebration was short lived.

At the start of the fourth, Garden City had a second-and-13 at the Panthers’ 29. Miller called a run play to Matt McDonald, who stretched it out towards the sideline. With nowhere to go, he instinctively made a cutback move. But when he did, the ball was punched free and scooped up by Sumler-who returned it 70 yards for a touchdown. The transfer from Dodge City finished the afternoon with three tackles, a pick six and a fumble recovery for a score. Dayton Balvan’s extra point was blocked and the Panthers led 30-23. 

On the Busters next series, Miller reinserted Undre Williams-who rushed for a career-best 107 yards. On the very first play, the red-shirt freshman took the handoff, made one move at the line of scrimmage and raced 74 yards to the end zone. Ismael Hernandez’s PAT tied the contest with 14:25 to play. 

Garden City had a golden chance to retake the lead following a muffed snap to Balvanz on a punt that gave the Busters the ball at the Panthers’ 41. But on the very next play, Williams fumbled the rock and Ellsworth recovered. 

Garden City had another opportunity to put the game on ice with 4:30 left. This time, they seized it when Graham went up top to Brandon Snell, who made the catch and outraced Lachel Durant to the end zone. It was definitely vindication for the freshman quarterback who was victimized in the first half by a Durant interception. But a bad snap on the extra point kept it a six point game 36-30. 

It took Ellsworth just six plays to reach the Buster two-yard line on their next possession. And with a chance to take the lead late, Garden City’s defense made a big-time play. On fourth-and-goal from the two, first-year Ellsworth Coach Jesse Montalto called for a pop pass from Davis, who seemed to execute the play perfectly. But the ball was deflected at the line of scrimmage and bounced harmlessly off the hands of tight end Rakim Jackson-turning the ball over on downs. 

After a Buster punt, Ellsworth marched to the Garden City 35. With time winding down, Davis spiked the ball on third down, setting up a fourth-and 1. Defensive Coordinator Oscar Rodriguez, who earlier last week was informed his cancer was back, made the best the call of the day. He sent seven guys after Davis who rushed a screen pass that caromed off the fingertips of Xavier Washpun-giving the ball back to Garden City with seven seconds. 

“What that guy (Rodriguez) is dealing with is a true testament of the person; the man he is,” Miller said. “We’ve dedicated the season to him. We won this game for him.”

Rodriguez’s defense had their moments of glory on Saturday, showing an opportunistic nature that would have made Buddy Ryan proud. 

Garden City broke through first with a six-play, 42-yard drive that was punctuated with Graham’s 14-yard run to pay dirt.  The Panthers evened the score three minutes later when Mitch Wieland, who started the game for the injured Davis, found Taylor for a 58-yard touchdown. On the play, the nation’s leading receiver beat Green and Lamonta Truitt. 

The Busters grabbed the lead back on their next drive when Williams plunged in from three yards out-capping off a five-play 72-yard march. 

Rodriguez’s defense forced the second of seven turnovers on Ellsworth’s next possession when Wieland fumbled the ball and Ben Harper recovered. Six plays later, McDonald scored on a 10-yard run giving the Busters a 21-7 advantage with 13:27 remaining in the first half. Wieland was pulled after the next series when his pass for Tad Steffenson was intercepted by Truitt. 

The Panthers salvaged the first 30 minutes with a 29-yard field goal by Balvanz-closing the half with Garden City up 11. 

Graham was 15-of-27 for 294 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran it 25 times for 89 yards and a score. Snell finished with a game-high seven receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown, while Burchfield also hit the century mark-snaring four balls for 121 yards. 

Davis finished a pedestrian-like 10-of-23 for 113 yards and two-plus quarters of action. Taylor caught six balls for 90 yards and a touchdown. 

Notes: This was only the second all-time meeting between the Busters and the Panthers (Ellsworth won the first back in 1967: a 35-15 victory in the Sterling Silver Bowl)…Ellsworth dropped to 9-3 all-time versus the Jayhawk Conference; their three losses are to Garden City and Hutch twice…After starting the game 5-of-15, Graham finished by completing 10-of-his-last 12 passes…The Busters rushed for a season-best 243 yards on 54 carries…With three sacks allowed, Garden City has now yielded 13 total in three games…After committing just six penalties in their season-opening victory, Garden City has been flagged 26 times in the last eight quarters…The game was the second victory for Miller’s bunch when they’ve turned the ball over at least five times (The other one was last year vs. Air Force Prep)

Next up: Garden City vs. Independence-Saturday, September 27-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kickoff on 98.1 FM; z98mobile.com and the all-new mobile app:KSKZ