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Amarillo, TX (westernkansasnews.com)-Déjà vu is defined as the illusion of having previously experience something actually being encountered for the first time.
In Sean Ponder’s case, there was no illusion; only reality.
Call it a bad dream, but when Ponder and the Law finally awoke from their nightmare Saturday night, Amarillo had done to them what they did twice last year.
Quarterback Nate Davis accounted for six touchdowns, four of those on the ground including the go-ahead score with 7:55 to play as the Venom came from behind to beat Dodge City 49-48 at the Civic Center.
And for the second straight game vs. Amarillo, the kicking game or lack thereof down the stretch cost Ponder’s bunch.
“We made some bonehead mistakes,” the third-year coach admitted after the game. “Our kicker head-butting a guy and getting ejected was not very smart.”
The Law’s fate might have been sealed following Derrick Bernard’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Daniel McKinney that gave the Law a 42-35 lead with one second to go in the third quarter. But on the ensuing kickoff, kicker Jared Wood head butted Amarillo (1-1) receiver Raymond Johnson drawing a penalty flag. After a short discussion, the referees ejected Wood, taking a massive bite out of Dodge City’s special team’s attack.
“As a team, we just have to be smarter than that,” Ponder said.
Wood’s ejection was the culmination of a night marred by unforced errors (two costly turnovers) and penalties. Dodge City (3-1) was flagged a season-high 15 times for 105 yards.
Wood’s absence definitely changed Ponder’s play calling in the final stanza.
With no kicker and the game tied at 42, Dodge City was facing a fourth-and-13 from the Venom 19. The veteran coach had no choice but to go for it. The end result was a bad snap that bounced past Bernard and was recovered by Amarillo’s Deshondric Sheppard at the Law 10.
Two plays later, Davis stampeded into the end zone from five yards out to put the Venom on top 49-42 with less than eight minutes remaining.
“We have to work on silent counts and all that stuff that we work on every single week,” Ponder explained. “I’ll say it again: it’s all about being smart. The crowd was loud, but it’s not something we haven’t experienced before.”
Trailing for the second time in the game, the Law responded with a six-play, 45-yard drive that culminated in Bernard’s five-yard dash to the end zone. But the two-point conversion failed when the rookie quarterback’s sidearm pass bounced off the chest of DeAngelo McCray.
Amarillo sealed the game when they got the ball back. Davis zipped a 12-yard out to Johnson who maneuvered past Cashmin Thomas for a first down. The Venom ran out the clock from there.
“There’s some scheme things that we were doing that were successful,” Ponder said. “If we stay in the scheme, we probably win the game. But we didn’t follow the scheme and got beat.”
That scheme looked sharp early. Dodge City methodically marched down the field on their opening drive, covering 38 yards in five plays-taking 3:18 off the clock. Bernard punctuated the drive with a 17-yard touchdown run to give the Law a 7-0 advantage.
Amarillo countered quickly when, on the Venom’s first offensive play, Davis went up top to speedster Tommy Curry, who outraced DeWayne Autry for a 27-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Bernard answered with his second score of the night: a five-yard sprint to the house that gave the Law a 14-7 edge. That was until Davis responded with his own five-yard touchdown run to knot the score at 14.
The Venom had a chance to surge in front late in the first following Bernard’s red zone interception. But an 11-play drive ended in disappointment when Dominique Guest was stonewalled by Louvan Green and Harold Love on fourth-and-goal from the 2.
Dodge City eventually regained the lead when Bernard hit Jackson on a screen pass that went seven yards for a touchdown.
The Venom answered two plays later when Davis found a wide-open Kameron Edwards streaking down the middle for an eight-yard score.
The teams closed the half by trading blows. Dodge City found the end zone on the heels of a beautiful 39-yard touchdown pass by Bernard to McKinney before Davis added his second rushing touchdown of the first half to tie the game at 28.
Then, in the final seconds of the second period, Wood pushed a 29-yard field goal to the left, ending a 30-minute sequence that saw more emotional twists than the Law’s first three-games combined.
“We have to go back to the drawing board,” Ponder said afterwards. “Everything we did is correctable.”
That includes special teams, which for the second straight year against the Venom, came back to bite them in some shape or form.
Johnson’s 47-yard kickoff return to begin the third quarter gave the Venom their first lead of the night 35-28.
But Dodge City answered with 14 straight points: Jeffery Cameron’s five-yard rushing touchdown and McKinney’s sliding nine-yard td reception that put the Law back in front 42-35.
After the unsportsmanlike penalty on Wood, Amarillo setup shop at the Dodge City 13. Three plays later, Davis called his own number from four yards out to the tie the contest at 42 with 13:32 to play in the game.
The veteran signal called carried the ball eight times for 28 yards and four touchdowns. He was 9-of-19 through the air for 109 yards and two scores. Johnson caught three balls for 52 yards, and Greg Jones had three receptions for 20. Desmond Raiford led all defensive players with 14 tackles, three sacks, two quarterback hurries and one pass breakup.
Bernard finished the night 10-of-17 for 152 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. He rushed it 24 times for a season-best 137 yards and three scores.
McKinney had a big night, reeling in five balls for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
“We didn’t play up to our standards tonight,” Ponder said. “That has to change for next week for sure.”’
Notes: Dodge City is now 0-3 lifetime vs. Amarillo…The three contests have been decided by a total of seven points-the last two have both been decided by a single digit (44-43 and 49-48)…Dodge City lost despite holding Amarillo to just four first downs in the second half…Dodge City held the ball for 35:36 and ran 11 more plays (49-38) than the Venom
Next up: Dodge City vs. Texas-Saturday, March 26-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7:05 p.m. kickoff on 98.1 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kskz; mobile app: KSKZ and tuneinradio app: KSKZ