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Dodge City, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-Before the season ever began, Dodge City defensive back Cashmin Thomas made a pretty emphatic statement:
“We keep talking about how we are this great team, but it’s time for us to put our money where our mouth is.”
His game-flipping pick Saturday night vs. Duke City, made that proclamation seem rather prophetic.
Dominique Carson scored four touchdowns and totaled 119 all-purpose yards, Dodge City forced two key turnovers, and the Law rallied from a second-quarter deficit to beat the Gladiators 48-39 at United Wireless Arena.
“This win shows that our guys didn’t quit,” Ponder said. “It’s so easy for teams, when they have a bad loss, to not show up the following game. That wasn’t the case with this group.”
And like the week prior in Salina, one play made all the difference in the world.
Leading 20-14 with 2:33 to play in the first half, Duke City (4-2) was driving with a chance to take a two-touchdown advantage into the locker room. This after the Gladiator defense had just stuffed Law quarterback Derrick Bernard on fourth-and-goal from the 3.
“We needed a jolt,” Ponder said.
And his team delivered right on cue.
On third-and-4 from the Dodge City 20, Dewayne Autry deflected Bryan Randall’s pass; Thomas scooped it out of the air and returned it to the Duke City 22. Two unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties on the Gladiators moved the ball to the 5.
“Anytime you have a chance to change the game with a play, it takes the life out of the opponent,” Ponder said. “We did that. That play totally changed the game.”
Two plays later, Carson scored from a yard out to put the Law on top 21-20.
They never trailed again.
Ponder’s defense stonewalled Duke City on four straight plays on their ensuing drive to get the ball back. Carson then delivered his third rushing touchdown of the night: an 18-yard sprint to pay dirt to give Dodge City a 27-20 edge (Jared Wood missed the extra point).
The Gladiators made things interesting before the half when Randall found Sedrick Johnson along the back wall in the end zone to pull Duke City to within one. But with a chance to tie the game, Cody Barber missed the extra point.
“As big of a momentum-changing play that Cash had, us stopping Duke City to begin the second half was even bigger.”
On the Gladiators opening drive of the third quarter, the Law defense clamped down. Randall was chopped down for minimal yardage on first down before throwing three straight incompletions to give Dodge City the ball back.
“They (Duke City) had a chance to take the lead, and we stopped them,” Ponder explained. “That was huge.”
Carson then moved the Law into scoring range with a five-yard reception and back-to-back carries that gave Dodge City a first-and-10 at the Gladiators 13. On the very next play, Bernard faked the hand off to Carson before firing a bullet to a wide-open Brandon Venson, who beat Emmanuel McPherson for a 13-yard score. Wood’s extra point pushed the Law lead to eight 34-26 with 9:41 to play in the third.
“He’s (Carson) such a dynamic player,” Ponder said. “He sets everything up on offense.”
Duke City had another chance to tie the game when former Law star Dello Davis hauled in Randall’s eight-yard scoring toss. But the veteran quarterback’s pass to Johnson on the two-point conversion sailed out of the back of the end zone, preserving the Dodge City lead 34-32.
The law responded with a five-play, 40-yard drive that milked nearly four minutes off the third-quarter clock. They converted a third-and-2 from the Duke City 10 when Carson squeezed out three yards. Then, the reigning special team’s player of the year put on exclamation mark on the possession with a seven-yard rushing touchdown that gave Dodge City a 41-32 advantage with 4:55 to go in the period.
But it was one more defensive play that finally put the Gladiators away in the fourth.
After Duke City made it a two-point contest following Randall’s six-yard scoring strike to Davis, the Gladiator defense got the ball back when they stuffed Carson on fourth-and-2 from the Duke City 14.
“Our guys never lost confidence,” Ponder said. “They just kept making plays.”
Facing a fourth-and-2 from their own 21, Randall made his second costly mistake of the game-forcing a pass to Davis that was deflected and intercepted by Dobard.
“We changed some things on our coverages,” Ponder said. “We tried to confuse Randall.”
Dobard’s second pick of the season eventually set up Bernard’s third touchdown pass of the night: a 17-yard toss to McKinney, who scooped up the low throw and scampered across the goal line.
“He (Bernard) had so much more confidence in this game,” Ponder said. “I think people forget that he’s only a rookie. He knew he had to bounce back, and he did.”
Bernard’s final line was pretty efficient: 12-of-17 for 132 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. It was in total contrast to his four-pick performance in Salina just seven days earlier.
Two fourth-down failures in the final nine minutes sealed the game and offset a costly turnover by Bernard, who was stripped sacked with 3:31 to go.
Carson carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards and four scores. He added three catches for 10 yards. Bernard totaled 39 yards on the ground. Daniel McKinney caught a team-best six balls for 91 yards and two touchdowns, while Autry tallied 10 tackles. It was his third straight game with double-digit stops.
Randall completed just 6-of-18 passes in the second half for 62 yards. He finished the night 14-of-34 for 162 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Davis caught seven balls for 90 yards and three touchdowns. He totaled 212 all-purpose yards.
Meantime the Gladiator run game, which has been nonexistent this season, gained just 29 yards on 16 carries.
“This was a big bounce back for us,” Ponder said.
Dodge City got on the board first with a three-play, 25-yard drive that was capped with Carson’s one-scoring plunge.
Duke City cut the deficit to one when Randall hit Brock Ringo for a 16-yard touchdown on fourth-and-10. But the snap went through the hands off the holder Taylor Genuser, whose pass to the end zone fell incomplete.
After Wood missed a 53-yard field goal, the Gladiators drove 24 yards in seven plays and scored on third-and-goal from the 4 when Randall found Johnson all alone in the end zone. Barber’s extra point gave Duke City a 13-7 lead with 2:35 to go in the first.
Dodge bounced right back, and on the first play of the second quarter, McKinney hauled in Bernard’s underthrown pass for a 28-yard score to give the Law a 14-13 advantage.
Duke City grabbed the lead for the final time when Randall hit Davis on a slant for a 29-yard touchdown to make it 20-14 Gladiators with 13:30 left in the half.
Notes: Gladiators had just three first downs in the second half…Duke City was held to just 78 total yards in the second half…Bernard was 6-of-7 for 68 yards and two touchdowns in the second half…Duke City fumbled the ball three times and lost none…It was the first game this season in which Dodge City failed to record a sack
Next up: Dodge City vs. Salina-Saturday, April 30-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7:05 p.m. kick on 98.1 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kskz; mobile app: KSKZ and tuneinradio app: KSKZ