Albuquerque, NM (westernkansasnews.com)-There was no ‘get one for the gipper’ speech. There weren’t any celebratory dances going on inside the Dodge City Law locker room. All that appeared in the aftermath of Saturday’s road win over Duke City was a fist pump from a stoic coach, who has seen his team go from expansion to favorite all in 12 months’ time.
“This was a business trip,” Sean Ponder said. “We took care of business.”
Dominique Carson scored three times, and the rest of the offense overcame a four-turnover debacle in the second half to hold off the Gladiators 47-43 at Tingley Coliseum.
“It wasn’t pretty at all, but we’ll take it,” said Javon Ross, the offensive lineman who was just signed on Tuesday. “We had faith that we would get the job done.”
Ross, who starred at Division II Henderson State, was a major force behind Dodge City’s ground attack, which rushed for 85 yards on 23 carries. Still, it seemed the offense was stuck in mud for most of the second half.
Leading 33-13 at the beginning of the third, Dodge City (5-1) allowed Duke City (1-2) to march 40 yards in five plays. Roland Bruno caught two balls on the drive: the first for 27 yards that set the Gladiators up first-and-10 at the Law 13. Two plays later, Bruno reeled in Kasey Peters 11-yard touchdown pass, and following a missed Zeke Arrevolo extra point, Duke City trailed 33-19.
That’s when the turnover fest began.
“We can’t go on the road and turn the ball over like that,” Ponder said. “We just can’t do it.”
On Dodge City’s first possession of the third, Kingjack Washington fumbled a second-down handoff, and the Gladiators recovered. That giveaway didn’t result in any points as Duke City went four-downs and out. But when the Law got the football back, Josh Floyd, who was held to just 101 yards through the air, forced a pass to the end zone for Jamie January that was picked off by Jayson Serda.
“That was just a poor decision by Josh,” Ponder said. “He knew it.”
That error in judgment led to Duke City’s next score: a Peters to James Cleveland six-yard touchdown pass that capped off an eight-play, 29-yard drive, cutting Dodge City’s lead to 33-26 with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
“We made this thing much more exciting than it needed to be,” Ponder said. “But we’ll learn from it as players and coaches and move on.”
After Jacorey Quarterman returned the ensuing kickoff 23 yards to the Duke City two-yard line, it appeared Dodge City had found its offensive footing. But two plays later, Floyd fumbled the snap and Serda recovered for the Gladiators at the 4. Murphy’s Law was now in order.
“Good teams overcome those types of mistakes,” Ponder said. “We were able to do that.”
Trailing by a touchdown early in the fourth, Duke City converted a fourth down near midfield before moving the ball inside the Dodge City 10. On second-and-goal from the 8, Peters was flushed out of the pocket and was forced to throw the ball out of bounds. But the officials ruled intentional grounding resulting in a 26-yard loss back to their own 16. Eventually the Gladiators settled for a 34-yard Arrevolo field goal that trimmed the deficit to 33-29 with 9:06 remaining.
“That was a big defensive stand,” Ponder said. “They could have tied the game with all that momentum. But we stood tall.”
The offense created some separation just moments later. After Carson’s 35-yard kickoff return set the Law up at the Gladiators’ 10, Washington atoned for his fumble just a quarter earlier, dashing to pay dirt after initially bobbling the exchange with Floyd. Alex Fambrough’s extra point gave Dodge City a 40-29 lead with 8:20 to go.
“I consider myself fortunate to have three of the best offensive players in the league in Floyd, Carson and Kingjack,” Ponder said. “We can do so many different things on offense.”
The Law had a chance to put the proverbial nail in the coffin when Duke City failed to convert a fourth down inside their 10-yard line with 5:34 to play. But after Dodge took over, it only took them two plays to cough it up again. On second-and-goal from the 7, Carson took the handoff from Floyd, and as he ran to the left, the league’s leading scoring inexplicably put the ball on the turf, and Duke City recovered.
“Those things normally don’t happen,” a befuddled Ponder said afterwards.
The Gladiators response: a 10-play, 41-yard drive that milked nearly five minutes off the clock and resulted in Emmanuel McPherson’s two-yard rushing touchdown. Peters pass on the two-point conversion was incomplete, and the Gladiators trailed 40-35 with 50 seconds remaining in the fourth.
The bounce on the ensuing onside kick can only be described one way: fortuitous. With no timeouts and less than a minute to play, Arrevolo angled a spinning kick to the left that skipped off the field right into the lap of Jacorey Quarterman, who returned it five yards for a touchdown.
“That’s a heads up play by him (Quarterman),” Ponder said. “He read it perfectly.”
Fambrough booted through the PAT, and Dodge City had a 47-35.
Duke City bounced right back, scoring 37 seconds later when Peters hit James Cleveland on a nine-yard strike. Peters went back to Cleveland for the two-point try, cutting the Law lead to 47-43.
The Gladiators rally though short circuited after their final onside kick attempt was fielded by Brandon Venson.
“They’ve got something going here,” Ponder said of Duke City. “They were a veteran team. They played for the league championship as the New Mexico Stars last year; so it wasn’t surprising.”
Dodge City appeared to have the game on cruise control early, scoring on five of their first six possessions including each of their last four in the first half. During that span, Washington had a two-yard score; Carson surged in from two yards out before adding a one-yard plunge midway through the second quarter and a spectacular 24-yard dash to the end zone that made it 27-10. Floyd capped the 21-point second quarter with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Delo Davis with 33 seconds left in the half.
Meantime Duke City squandered an early scoring chance. On their first possession of the game, Peters, with quick precision, moved the Gladiators 26 yards in five plays. But his pass on second-and-goal from the Dodge City 8 was batted up in the air and intercepted by Cashmin Thomas.
After forcing Dodge City to go four downs and out, the Gladiators got on the board with a 20-yard field goal by Arrevolo. They would add their only touchdown of the first half early in the second when Landrick Brody scampered in off right guard. They closed the first half by adding a 30-yard field.
Peters finished 21-of-45 for 253 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The ground game was held to minus-6 yards on 20 carries. Roland Bruno caught nine balls for 137 yards and a score. Cleveland caught seven passes for 86 and two touchdowns.
Carson led the Law with 42 yards on eight carries. Washington added 40 yards on nine totes and two touchdowns. Davis, who missed last week’s game because of a suspension, caught three passes for 37 yards and a score.
Notes: The win coupled with Wichita’s loss to Texas puts Dodge City in sole possession of first place…The 186 yards of total offense for Dodge City was third fewest in franchise history (Lowest-last year 129 vs. Wichita and 182 vs. Kansas)…Maurice Young pulled his hamstring late in the first quarter and didn’t return…14 pass attempts by Floyd was second fewest this season (fewest was 12 vs. Sioux City)…Dodge City was held to just one first down in the second half…After holding Duke City to just 84 total yards in the first half, Dodge City gave up 163 in the second half…Duke City won the time of possession battle 37:52 to 22:08…Dodge City recorded a season-high four sacks…Duke City was just 3-of-14 on third down conversions…After turning it over two times in the last four games, the Law gave it away four times in 15 minutes
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