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Salina, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-Rarely in football does one play or sequence cost a team the game-especially when it happens in the third quarter.
Saturday night at the Bicentennial Center, Dodge’s City decision to burn two timeouts during one snap defied conventional wisdom.
It also cost the Law first place in the CIF South.
Derek Racette threw three touchdown passes, and the Salina defense forced five Law turnovers on their way to a 44-37 upset-win over Dodge City.
“This one is squarely on me,” Law Coach Sean Ponder. “These guys work too hard, and I have to coach a better game.”
Trailing 24-20 with 8:17 remaining in the third quarter, Dodge City (4-2) was facing a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. With the play clock winding down, Ponder used his first timeout. When play resumed, Dodge City was called for a false start, pushing the ball back to the 6. Then, inexplicably before the next snap, three receivers went in motion (only two are allowed to move at once) and Ponder used another timeout.
“We just had guys not lined up right,” Ponder said. “We didn’t have the right personnel in. But that’s on me.”
Eventually, Derrick Bernard hit Daniel McKinney for a six-yard touchdown pass to give the Law the lead back 27-24.
It was the last time they were in the driver’s seat.
Salina (2-3) answered with 20 straight points, sparked by Dodge City’s offensive collapse.
Racette’s four-yard touchdown toss to Joe Kassanavoid gave the Liberty the lead for good 30-24 (Mike Georgetti missed the extra point) with 4:58 remaining in the third period.
The next time Dodge City had the ball, Bernard’s line-drive pass was deflected and intercepted by Brock Long. Five plays later, the Liberty scored again-this time on the heels of Racette’s six-yard TD strike to Ed Smith that gave Salina a 37-27 edge with 8 seconds to go in the quarter.
“We missed way too many opportunities in this one,” Ponder said. “You have to give credit to Salina.”
On their first series of the fourth, the Law reached midfield following a dazzling 14-yard catch-and-run by Dominique Carson on third-and-10. But the next snap was a disaster. Bernard forced a wobbly pass into double coverage that Corey Dunbar picked off at the Liberty 10.
“You can’t turn the ball over five times; it’s as simple as that,” Ponder explained afterwards. “I know we had some breakdown in protections.”
That pick proved costly as Kassanavoid scampered up the middle for a 41-yard score that gave Salina a 44-27 advantage with 11:55 to play. The one-time Kansas State backup quarterback finished the night with 88 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
Bernard’s fourth interception of the night could have easily been the back breaker. After directing the Law to the Salina 7, the rookie quarterback forced a lob pass into the back of the end zone to McKinney that was picked off by Justiss Scales.
“When it rains it pours,” Ponder said.
Despite the Law’s fifth turnover, Harold Love’s sack of Racette in the back end zone on Salina’s next series breathed life back into Dodge City’s cause.
Carson then returned the free kick 34 yards to the Salina 16. The reigning special team’s player of the year eventually capped a four-play drive with a two-yard rushing touchdown. Following the score, Bernard hit Brandon Venson in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion, pulling Dodge City back to within seven 44-37 with 5:46 remaining.
Incredibly, it was the last time the Law had the ball.
The Liberty got a big break when Dodge City was called for an illegal defense that moved the ball to the Law 21. But somehow three plays milked the final four minutes off the clock. Salina lost 26 yards on those next three snaps-22 of those came on penalties. Unexplainably, the clock continued to run, despite the offensive penalties, and eventually time ran out on Ponder’s bunch.
“I have to get these guys ready to play,” Ponder said. “There are no excuses.”
Dodge City looked poised for another breakout game when Bernard engineered a three-play, 39-yard drive on their opening possession. He punctuated it with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Venson to give the Law a 7-0 lead.
Salina’s first possession ended with a red zone turnover when Racette’s toss sweep went right through the legs of Ed Smith and was recovered by Love. But the celebration was short lived. Bernard’s ensuing pass was intercepted by defensive lineman Brandon Harold, who returned it to the Dodge City 8. Three plays later, Terrance Lowe charged into the end zone from two yards out to tie the game.
“We got out of our scheme,” Ponder said. “We’ve done that in two out of the last three games.”
Dodge City responded with a five-play, 25-yard march that resulted in Bernard’s sensational 10-yard scoring run, where he bobbled the ball; regained possession; cut back against the grain and found the end zone to make it 14-7.
Salina eventually tied the game on the first play of the second quarter on Racette’s one-yard plunge.
The Law appeared primed to regain the advantage after Bernard connected with McKinney for 28 yards down to the Liberty 13. But Long’s fourth-down sack of Bernard ended the threat.
Georgetti capitalized off of it by drilling a season-best 44-yard field goal to give Salina a 17-14 lead.
Dodge City surged back in front on their next drive, thanks to Bernard, who called his own number twice, the final one went eight yards for a score. Jared Wood missed the extra point, and the Law lead was 20-17.
It stayed that way until early in the third when Racette connected with former Law receiver Zach McLain on a five-yard touchdown pass to put the Liberty in front 24-20.
Racette finished the night 10-of-16 for 111 yards, three touchdowns and one pick. He ran it 11 times for 29 yards and a score. Kassanavoid added four carries for 44 yards and a touchdown, while reeling in three catches for 33 yards and a score. Long tallied a game-best 12 tackles, one sack, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Bernard was just 9-of-18 for 135 yards, two scoring strikes and four interceptions. He completed only four passes in the second half, while rushing it 15 times for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Carson caught three balls for 60 yards.
Notes: Dodge City was without defensive back Cashmin Thomas, who missed the game because of a knee injury; they also played without center Keyun Swinney, who was inactive for personal matters…Newly signed wide receiver Austin Coleman played sparingly on both offense and special teams…The five turnovers in a single game is the most in franchise history…Dodge City had just five first downs in the second half and 102 total yards of offense…Salina won the game despite going 2-for-9 on third-down conversions
Next up: Dodge City vs. Duke City-Saturday, April 16-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7:05 p.m. kick on 98.1 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kskz; mobile app: KSKZ and tuneinradio app: KSKZ