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San Angelo, TX (westernkansasnews.com)-It was far from the prettiest offensive performance of Sean Ponder’s coaching tenure in Dodge City.
But in the end, something that never happened last year, the defense won the day.
And they looked good doing it.
The Law held San Angelo to just 75 total yards and four first downs in the first half, Dwayne Autry picked off his third pass of the year, and Dodge City improved to 3-0 for the first time in franchise history with a 33-18 victory Saturday night at Foster Communications Coliseum.
“It’s tough to travel as far as we did and play the way we did,” Ponder said afterwards. “But defensively, they played lights out.”
Defensive lineman Harold Love made the third-year coaches job appear like a walk in the park.
Love registered six tackles and 1.5 sacks, the solo quarterback takedown came in the second quarter when the Bethune-Cookman product wrapped his arms around Tyrik Rollison and dropped him in the back of the end zone for a safety. The two pointer gave the Law a 19-6 lead with 8:10 to play in the half.
“Honestly I just licked my chops,” Love said. “I wanted him so bad. Then I saw the center move to the opposite direction that I was going. So I just hit him with a move, came up underneath and was able to tackle him.”
Love was also instrumental on San Angelo’s (0-2) second drive when he swatted away Rollison’s fourth-down pass intended for Zach Fondal from the 2-yard line. It was one of three times where the Bandits moved the ball inside the Law 10 and failed to score.
“I was just trying to move with the play,” Love explained. “Then I saw the quarterback throw the ball, and all I did was reach out and tip it.”
It was Autry though who made the first big defensive play of the game.
With the Law leading 7-0, San Angelo began their opening possession from midfield after Jared Wood’s kickoff sailed out of bounds. But Rollison’s first pass of the game was errant to Austin Smith. Autry made a sliding interception and returned it to the 25-yard line.
The turnover eventually led to Wood’s 29-yard field goal that stretched the Dodge City lead to 10-0.
“Each week our defense has gotten better,” Ponder said. “These guys care. And it’s not about the yardage; it’s about red zone defense. And our red zone defense was pretty good.”
But the offense failed to keep up, and the Bandits took advantage early in the second quarter.
Facing a third-and 6 from their own 9, Derrick Bernard threw arguably his worst pass of the season: a sidearm delivery that was picked off by Blake Adams and returned to the 2.
Three plays later, Rollison scampered into the end zone. The Bandits failed on the extra point when the snap bounced back to Carter Mitchell, who then fired an incomplete pass to Mark Zlatek. San Angelo trailed 10-6.
“It wasn’t Derrick’s best performance,” Ponder said. “He’s disappointed because he knows that. But he still made plays.”
The rookie finished the night 11-of-26 for 127 yards and a pick. But with the passing game struggling, Bernard used his wheels to keep Dodge City in front.
After Bernard found Julian Walker for a 28-yard gain down to the Bandits 12, the one-time professional baseball player called his own number on the ensuing play, resulting in the first of three rushing touchdowns on the night. That one made it 17-6 with 9:05 to play in the first half.
Following Love’s sack in the end zone, Bernard quickly answered, engineering a five-play, 41-yard drive that he capped off with a 13-yard dash to pay dirt to make it 26-6 Dodge City.
Then the Law survived a scare late in the second when Rollison hit Smith for a 34-yard gain down to the Dodge City 10. But a penalty and an incomplete pass out of the back of the end zone ended the threat.
But the Bandits kept coming in the third quarter. On the second play from scrimmage, Rollison fired a pellet to Stephen Alfred, who juked out Cashmin Thomas en route to a 46-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, and the Law lead was trimmed to 26-12.
That was the lone defensive lapse of the night for the Law.
San Angelo would reach the Dodge City 10 twice in the second half only to be denied. The first of those drives ended when Love and Louvan Green sacked Rollison on fourth down. The final one came to a screeching halt when Eric Banford blocked Zlatek’s 16-yard field goal that Thomas promptly returned to the Bandits 24.
“I just saw gold,” Banford said of the block. “He bit on the fake a little bit, and I got that outside step. When I saw that I was going to get there I just closed my eyes and cuffed my hands. The rest was history.”
The blocked kick enabled Dodge City to chew up the clock. It also allowed them to put the game away when Bernard added his third score of the night: a four-yard quarterback draw that gave the Law a 33-12 edge with 1:40 to go.
The Bandits added a late 20-yard touchdown pass from Rollison to Antonio Brey, but the ensuing onside kick skipped out of bounds.
Willie Jackson, who started his second straight game for the injured Dominique Carson, carried the ball 10 times for 29 yards and a score. But his third-quarter fumble inside the Bandits’ 10, kept San Angelo in the game.
Walker caught two balls for 42 yards for the Law, who improved to 3-0 lifetime vs. San Angelo. Venson had three receptions for 22 and Daniel McKinney had three for 20.
Rollison was just 10-of-21 for 159 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He ran it 10 times for a yard and a score. The ground game as a whole produced just 55 yards on 20 carries.
Austin Smith reeled in four balls for 50 yards. Giannia Carter had four for 43.
“All this means is now we have to get to 4-0; then 5-0,” Banford said afterwards. “We’re not satisfied. We have to stay unbeaten.”
The Law struck first on their opening drive, covering 34 yards in 10 plays that included two third-down conversions and one on fourth down where Jackson broke two tackles on his way to a 12-yard rushing touchdown.