Wichita, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-Rarely are games won or lost on the opening kickoff. But if you’re a believer in bad omens, Friday’s inauspicious beginning cost Dodge City, not only first place, but leverage in the arms race for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Emmanuel Taylor threw for two touchdowns; ran for another, and the Wichita defense forced three Dodge City turnovers on their way to a 52-49 victory at Intrust Bank Arena.
“It’s tough to overcome the way we started the game,” Law Coach Sean Ponder said. “We made way too many mistakes.”
The backbreaker came on the game’s first play, when the normally sure-handed Dominique Carson fumbled the opening kickoff. Jason Catchings picked up the loose ball and returned it five yards for a touchdown.
It was a sign of things to come.
“That normally doesn’t happen to him (Carson),” Ponder said. “He had a tough time early on hanging onto the ball.”
The Law bounced back rather nicely. On their first offensive play, Josh Floyd dropped back and floated a perfect pass to Dello Davis, right over the outstretched arms of Kiaree Daniels for a 36-yard touchdown. Alex Fambrough connected on the extra point to tie the game at 7.
It was the only time all night the game was on an even playing field.
Wichita (6-3) jumped out to a 21-7 lead but only after Dodge City failed to convert a Taylor fumble into points. In fact, two plays after the takeaway, Carson coughed up the ball for the second time; Dorrian Roberts scooped up the loose change and glided 35 yards for the go-ahead score.
“It’s so out of Carson’s character,” Ponder said. “We’re obviously disappointed.”
When the Law got the football back, Floyd, who was harassed all night, was sacked by Jason Catchings at the Dodge City 5 on fourth-and 4. Three plays later, Taylor connected with Brett Soft from five yards out to give the Force a two-touchdown advantage.
“This team is tired right now,” Ponder said shaking his head afterwards. “We could all use a break.”
Despite a disjointed effort offensively, the Law found their way back in the game on their next possession, capping off a five-play, 41-yard drive with Floyd’s three-yard rushing touchdown. Fambrough missed the extra point, and Dodge City trailed 21-13 with 4:06 left in the first quarter.
But besides turnovers, the Law’s inability to stop the Force on third down proved costly, and no play signified that more than a third-and-9 late in the opening quarter.
After stout defensive efforts on back-to-back plays, Wichita was in a long yardage situation for the first time in the game. And despite being signed on Tuesday, Taylor, who became the Force’s sixth, different starting quarterback, played like a season veteran, rolling away from pressure before throwing a strike to Clarence Anderson. The former Ottawa University star that was once told he was too small to play at the next level, gathered in the perfect spiral, and maneuvered his way 37 yards to the Dodge City 3. It was one of seven, third-down conversions on the night.
Three plays later, Tywon Hubbard reached the end zone from a yard out, and Wichita had a 28-13 edge with 57 seconds to go in the first.
The Force extended the lead to 35-13, taking advantage of another fourth-down miscue by Dodge City.
Starting from their own 21 after a penalty, it only took Wichita four plays to reach the end zone on the back of Taylor’s four-yard rushing touchdown.
“Their quarterback made some big plays tonight,” Ponder said. “We didn’t react fast enough. Give them credit.”
Taylor carried the ball 16 times for 49 yards.
Dodge City kept the game within striking distance, thanks to Carson’s three-yard dash to pay dirt, finishing off a three-play, 27-yard march. Floyd hit Davis on the two-point conversion, and the Law trailed 35-21 with 9:08 to play in the first half.
Then, as Wichita moved the ball inside the Dodge City 10, Taylor fumbled for the second time, and Marquis George recovered at the 5.
“We made some big plays,” Ponder said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t take advantage of them.”
Three first downs later, Dodge City had the ball at the Wichita 3; that’s when defensive back Chris Hemphill stepped to the forefront.
Hemphill recorded four tackles on the drive including an all-important fourth-down stop where he dropped Floyd for a two-yard loss. The goal line stand was reminiscent of last year’s semifinal contest, where Floyd and the offense were stonewalled on four straight plays inside the Wichita 3.
The half ended with Ernesto Lacayo, last year’s playoff hero, missing a 50-yard field goal, and Daniels intercepting Floyd’s wobbly pass on the final play of the second quarter.
On the first play of the third, the door swung open again as Hubbard put the ball on the turf, and Monte Lewis recovered for Dodge City. Five plays later, Floyd, using a meticulous, no-huddle offense, floated a pass to a wide-open Jamie January in the back of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown, pulling Dodge City to within seven 35-28.
Wichita countered by scoring the next 10 points; Taylor’s one-yard toss to Anderson on third-and-goal from the 1 followed by Floyd’s incomplete pass to Zach McClain on fourth-and-goal from inside the Force 5.
What ensued: a 12-play, 41-yard drive that bled nearly nine minutes off the clock and ended with Lacayo banging home a 19-yard field goal to give Wichita their largest advantage of the second half 45-28 with 6:36 to go.
More missed opportunities.
Trailing by 17, Dodge City appeared to have a pulse when Floyd connected with Carson for a 14-yard touchdown with 4:22 to play. Three plays later, the Law had the football back after George intercepted a Taylor slant.
That led to Carson finding the end zone again from two yards out, cutting Wichita’s once double-digit lead to three 45-42 with 1:37 remaining in the fourth.
But the Force recovered the onside kick and scored four plays after that when Hubbard broke a tackle of Jacorey Quarterman at the five and stampeded into the end zone.
The Law still had one last chance after Floyd hit Carson for a 33-yard touchdown with nine seconds to play. But Fambrough’s ensuing onside kick never traveled the required 10 yards, and Wichita had beaten Dodge City for a fourth straight time.
“We’re giving these guys a week off,” Ponder said. “They’re giving me all they can. We will stay the course as far as personnel. They were just gassed. We saw that on that last defensive possession where we couldn’t get a stop.”
Floyd suffered through his worst game as Ponder’s starting quarterback, finishing 12-of-29 for 188 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Carson, who ran for a season-best 86 yards last week, was held to 44 on 11 carries and scored twice. He added five catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns.
Taylor was 11-of-22 for 114 yards, two touchdowns and a pick for Wichita. Hubbard carried the ball 16 times for 40 yards and two scores. Anderson hauled in six balls for 66 yards and a touchdown.
Notes: Despite forcing a season-high four turnovers, the Law defense allowed 125 total yards in the first half…It was the fourth time this season that Dodge City’s defense failed to record a sack…Wichita held the ball for nearly 18 minutes in the second half…Dodge City’s defense entered the game dead last in the league in opponent’s third-down conversion rate; they allowed Wichita to hit on 7-of-13 and yielded 5.8 yards per play on third down…The last two contests between the two teams have been decided by a total of five points…Wichita is 3-0 lifetime vs. Dodge at home…Dodge City has turned the ball over 15 times in their last five games…The 11 penalties against Dodge City was the second highest total this season…The loss drops Dodge City into fifth place in the CIF
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