Dodge City, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-One play will eat at Dodge City Law Head Coach Sean Ponder all summer long.
That one play altered Dodge City’s championship plans.
Nursing a seven-point lead with less than five minutes to play, Ponder rolled the dice on second-and-12 from midfield and instructed his quarterback Josh Floyd to throw the ball. The end result was a deflected pass that hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity before landing in the arms of Sioux City defensive back Rahn Franklin.
“The play was there,” Ponder said afterwards. “It just happened to get tipped; we have to make that catch.”
The Bandits grabbed their new lifeline and drove 37 yards in three minutes, scoring on Frederick Bruno’s two-yard touchdown run and taking the lead for good when Dowdell took the direct snap on the extra point attempt and ran in the two-point conversion.
Dominique Carson’s fumble on the ensuing kickoff sealed Sioux City’s 53-52 victory Saturday night at United Wireless Arena, clinching the league’s No. 1 overall seed and officially eliminating the Law from playoff contention.
“Our team played so well tonight,” Ponder said. “It’s horribly frustrating when something gets taken away from you like that.”
The Bandits, who won their seventh straight game, had the lead for most of the second half. That is until Carson burst in from five yards out to pull Dodge City to within two 45-43 before adding the two pointer to tie it up with 13:03 left.
“I don’t care what the situation is, I trust No. 21 (Carson) to get the job done,” wide receiver Maurice Young said. “That guy is unbelievable.”
Carson carried the Law to the tune of a season-high 106 yards on 11 carries, scoring four times in the losing effort.
But he was outdone by a Sioux City (9-3) team that had no intentions of making a return trip to Dodge City (7-5) for an opening round playoff game six days later.
Bandits quarterback Charles Dowdell, who was named the league’s most valuable player on Friday, entered Saturday’s game having thrown 50 straight passes without an interception. He tossed two of them in the season’s final contest, the last one was arguably his worst decision of the season.
With just over 12 minutes to go and the ball at midfield, Dowdell floated a pass in Willie Downs’s direction. But Dewayne Autry undercut the route and picked off the fluttering ball at the 14-yard line.
“We made an adjustment on the play, coming from the front-side corner,” Autry said. “My coaches saw it; we made the adjustment when I came to the sideline and that was the outcome.”
Autry’s pick sent United Wireless into a frenzy. And if the decibel levels weren’t loud enough, they would be just a few minutes later when Kingjack Washington punctuated a five-play, 36-yard drive with a four-yard rushing touchdown that gave Dodge City their first lead since late in the second quarter 52-45 with 9:11 remaining.
And while the grave diggers started the process digging the hole for Sioux City’s coffin, Daejohn Love and company began etching the tombstone when a surging defensive effort shutdown the Bandits ensuing drive by stopping them on fourth-and-1 from the Law 8 with six minutes to play.
“We thought we had them at that point,” Autry said. “It just didn’t work out that way.”
That is until Floyd put it in the air and Franklin, who came into the night having picked off a pass in all but three games, was gift wrapped an interception.
Sioux City grabbed the lead before a controversial call sealed Dodge City’s fate.
With 1:02 remaining, Bandits kicker Max Martin sent an end-over-end shot to Carson five yards deep in the end zone. The league’s co-special team’s player of the year, snagged it and sprinted up the middle of the field like he had done countless times before. But as he made his way towards the 10-yard line, the ball was stripped loose. After several seconds, the referees awarded the ball to Sioux City. Replay would later show that Jamie January had simultaneous possession underneath the pile with defensive back Jon Smith, which should have given the ball back to Dodge City.
“We had the ball,” Ponder said. “I’m not sure how it was ruled that they had it, but that should have been our ball. It’s hard for a game of this magnitude to end like that.”
That wasn’t the only controversy surrounding the week 14 contest. Earlier in the second half, Dello Davis hauled in what looked like a sure 36-yard touchdown pass from Floyd. But the back judge ruled that Davis had trapped the ball despite the fact that the replay showed otherwise.
“It’s frustrating for our fans when they see the play and the refs call it the opposite way,” Ponder said in reference to the league not allowing officials to use the video board for reference. “But it is what it is.”
Sioux City suffered the same fate in the third quarter when the referees missed what looked like a clear diving catch by Downs that would have given the Bandits a first down inside the Law 10.
Calls aside, the game’s first 30 minutes was the prelude to one of the most exciting finishes of the season.
On the very first play from scrimmage, Carson raced 36 yards for a touchdown, giving Dodge City a 7-0 lead. Sioux City countered with their own knockout blow when Johnny Bentley plowed in from a yard out to tie it, capping off a four-play, 24-yard drive.
Carsons’ second rushing touchdown in the game’s first five minutes gave the Law a 14-7 advantage before Martin’s 45-yard field goal pulled the Bandits to within four.
After Floyd’s third-down pass to Davis fell incomplete on Dodge City’s next possession, Alex Fambrough, who was 0-for-11 on field goal attempts coming in, drilled a career-best 52 yarder, extending the Law lead to 17-10 with 4:59 left in the first quarter.
The Law then had their chance to add a little cushion following Louvan Green’s diving interception.
But penalties and miscues short circuited Dodge City’s drive, which eventually ended when with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-3 from the Sioux City 20. Floyd, who started the game 0-for-4, finished the night by completing a season-worst 39 percent.
Sioux City retaliated, tying the game again on Dowdell’s 14-yard touchdown strike to Damon Mothershead.
The two teams traded blows after that, with Dodge City grabbing the lead back behind Floyd’s sidearm, 8-yard touchdown pass to Washington, before Sioux City drew even on Downs’s three-yard touchdown run, tying the game at 24.
It didn’t take the Law long to grab the lead back. After Carson’s 28-yard kickoff return put the ball at the Bandits 22, Floyd struck gold on the very next play, hitting Young for a 22-yard touchdown. But Fambrough missed the extra point, and the Dodge City lead was 30-24.
Sioux City responded with a seven-play, 36-yard drive that chewed up nearly three minutes of the clock and scored on Bentley’s one-yard plunge. Martin gave the Bandits their first lead when he booted through the PAT.
The Law had a chance to take the lead before the half, moving the ball to the Sioux City 1. But a false start followed by Ponder’s decision to defer the field goal and try to punch it in from the six with two seconds left would prove costly. Floyd was stuffed by Marlon Lobban four yards shy of the end zone.
“The conventional wisdom is to kick the field goal there,” Ponder said. “But we had the play we wanted, and we had all the confidence in the world that would could get it in.”
Floyd finished the night 9-of-23 for 100 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He ran it 10 times for 49 yards.
Davis caught four balls for 45 yards. Young hauled in one pass for 22 yards and a score.
Dowdell had one of his worst games of the season, completing just 7-of-18 passes for 96 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Bentley rushed 23 times for 89 yards and four scores while Downs caught five passes for 60 yards.
Notes: Dodge City’s loss coupled with Amarillo’s blowout victory over San Angelo meant that the Venom clinched the No. 4 seed while the Law was officially eliminated…Dodge City finished the year 3-3, losing their last two games…After starting the year 6-1, the Law lost four out of their final five games…With Sioux City’s win, Wichita now travels to Texas on Thursday in one semifinal while the Bandits host Amarillo on Saturday…Sioux City became just the fourth team ever to rush for 100 yards or more in a game against Dodge City (Bentley is first ever 100-yard rusher allowed by the Law)…The Dodge City Law was named franchise of the year for the second consecutive season…Co-owner Ricky Bertz was named Executive of the Year…Sioux City’s Erv Strohbeen was named coach of the year