Listen to the complete game in our archives section
Dallas, TX (westernkansasnews.com)-Aesthetically pleasing it was not.
But a win is a win, and in this case, a win finally punched Dodge City’s postseason ticket.
Derrick Bernard scored five times, while the Law defense intercepted Kolton Browning twice in the second half as Dodge City clinched a playoff spot with a 38-27 victory over Mesquite Saturday night at Mesquite Arena.
“It feels good to be going back to the playoffs with this franchise,” said defensive back DeWayne Autrey, who recorded a game-high 11 tackles. “Our ultimate goal is to win this thing, and we’re close.”
Record wise they are indeed. But their lackluster offensive performance against a 1-9 expansion team did not send Head Coach Sean Ponder into a celebratory dance.
“We didn’t play well at all on that side of the ball,” Ponder said. “Our defense came to play, but our offense had no rhythm.”
The final box score told a much different story.
Dodge City outgained the Marshalls 307-210, and produced 131 rushing yards. But four of their first six possessions ended without a score, including a crucial turnover towards the end of the first half.
Leading 14-1 with less than two minutes remaining in the second quarter (Mesquite scored the one point when Cashmin Thomas was unable to get out of the end zone on the opening kickoff), the Law appeared to be in full command. Bernard had just hit Daniel McKinney for a 13-yard score to increase their cushion.
But bad habits die hard. In this case, more special teams problems.
Larry Miller returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards to the Dodge City 1. On the very next play, Browning scampered across the goal line to cut the Law advantage to six.
“We made way too many mistakes,” Ponder said. “We’re fortunate to win this game, but there are a lot of things to correct.”
Things went from bad to worse moments later. As Bernard dropped back to pass on Dodge City’s next possession, he was stripped. Newly acquired defensive lineman Michael Daniels scooped up the loose ball and rumbled three yards for a touchdown. Chad Morrow booted through the extra point, and the Marshalls had a 15-14 lead with 59 seconds to go in the half.
“This was a pretty ugly game for us,” Ponder explained. “This by far was our worst game of the season on offense.”
Dodge City (8-3) had a chance to redeem themselves before the half, but after reaching the Marshalls 14-yard line, Bernard’s fourth-down pass to Brandon Venson fell incomplete.
It was only the second time all season that the Law trailed at the half.
Mesquite (1-10) had a chance to increase the margin early in the third. But after reaching the Dodge City 2, an illegal block and Louvan Green’s juggling interception sparked new life for the Law.
Bernard took advantage, hitting Venson on a post for a 23-yard score, putting Dodge City back in front 20-15 (failed two-point conversion) with 10:55 to play in the period.
After Mesquite cut the deficit to two following Morrow’s 30-yard field goal, the Law gave it back to the Marshalls following the Law’s fourth-down miscue at the Mesquite 16.
But when you’ve lost eight games in a row, there’s always an underlying cause. On third-and-14 from the Dodge City 20, Browning forced a pass into double coverage that Autrey plucked out of the sky.
“When the ball went into the air, I told my defensive back that’s my ball,” Autrey said.
Mesquite eventually retook the lead on Morrow’s second field goal of the half: a 24-yarder that made it 21-20 with 13:20 remaining in the game.
“We just haven’t played well on the road this season,” Ponder said. “We have to be able to do that if we’re going to accomplish our goal.”
Dodge City responded resoundingly the next time they had the ball, driving 23 yards in three plays before Dominique Carson put the Law in front for good with a three-yard rushing touchdown to make it 26-21 with 11:52 to go (another failed two-point conversion).
But the play of the game came with less than a minute remaining.
Facing a third-and-goal from the Mesquite 6, Bernard dropped back and floated a pass towards the left corner of the end zone. Marshalls defensive back Joe Powell grabbed the ball with two hands. But as he tried to secure it against his chest, it ricocheted into the air where McKinney grabbed it for a touchdown.
“Sometimes the bounces go your way,” Ponder said. “But it doesn’t take away from the fact that we played poorly.”
Mesquite added a late score when Browning connected with Cordell Roberson on a 21-yard scoring strike up the right sideline. But Morrow’s ensuing onside kick never made it the required 10 yards. Bernard added a two-yard score in the closing seconds, and the Law survived a scare to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2014.
Bernard was 14-of-25 for 176 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 77 yards on 13 carries and two scores. McKinney had five receptions for 50 yards and two touchdowns.
Kolton Browning finished the night 13-of-30 for 144 yards, a touchdown and two picks. He was just 8-of-17 in the second half. Roberson caught five balls for a game-best 74 yards and a score.
“I’ve got to do a better job as a head coach to make sure that we know what we’re doing,” Ponder explained.
After falling down 1-0, Dodge City marched 45 yards on their opening drive, punctuating it with Bernard’s 25-yard rushing touchdown.
Notes: Daniel McKinney now has a touchdown reception in eight straight games…With Dodge City’s win and Amarillo’s victory over Duke City, the Law and Venom will meet in the first round of the playoffs with home field being awarded to the winner of this week’s season finale in the Texas Panhandle
Next up: Dodge City at Amarillo-Saturday, June 4-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7:05 p.m. kick on 98.1 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kskz; mobile app: KSKZ and tuneinradio app: KSKZ