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Amarillo, TX (westernkansasnews.com)-The everlasting image from Saturday night’s playoff loss to Amarillo will be that of an incomplete pass on a two-point conversion try with less than a minute to play that would have given the Venom 100 points on the board.
In the end, Amarillo’s 98-56 thrashing of Dodge City in the opening round of the Champions Indoor League playoffs at the Civic Center, will haunt Dodge City Coach Sean Ponder forever.
“We were totally outplayed,” Ponder said after the game. “But I don’t blame the Venom for trying to score 100 points. I would have done the same thing.”
It was less than a month ago when the Law hung 90 on San Angelo in a 44-point rout. They also scored 89 on South-division champ Texas back on March 26. But never in the veteran head coach’s mind did he ever envision a scenario where his fourth-ranked defense would surrender nearly a century’s worth of points in one night.
It happened, and it was a brutal end to a rather promising season.
Dodge City (8-5) turned it over a franchise-record seven times, five of those in the first half as Amarillo advanced to play Texas in the CIF semifinals this week.
“The turnovers were huge,” Ponder said. “You can’t play that way on the road. We hurt ourselves in so many ways.”
And it started on their opening drive when quarterback Derrick Bernard fumbled an exchange between he and Dominique Carson, and JeMichael Williams recovered for Amarillo. The first-year signal caller would put the ball on the turf once more later in the half. Couple that with three back-breaking interceptions, and it was a night to forget for the Texas native.
But it was a fortuitous bounce late in the first quarter that finally got the Venom on the board.
After the Venom drive stalled at their own 13, Jacob Felton’s 52-yard field goal was blocked by Louvan Green. The ball fluttered to Law defensive back Cashmin Thomas, who fielded it at the Dodge City 5. But as he made a cut near midfield, Thomas fumbled, and Amarillo’s Justin Williams recovered.
“That’s how it bounces sometimes,” Ponder explained. “Those were definitely game-changing plays.”
Amarillo scored four plays later when Wyreaz Bradly powered in from two yards out, giving the Venom a 7-0 lead with 14:56 to go in the second quarter.
The night of awkward bounces kept coming after Dodge City responded with a four-play, 25-yard touchdown drive that Bernard capped with a 13-yard run to pay dirt. But Desmond Raiford blocked the extra point; Percy Turner recovered it and raced 35 yards for two points. Amarillo led 9-6 with 12:13 left in the half.
“That was a heck of a play; give them credit,” Ponder said. “Special teams killed us again.”
Little did Ponder know, his team would not score again for the rest of the first half.
The Venom responded with 25 straight points to close the half, the biggest of those plays was a 45-yard touchdown pass from Nate Davis to Raymond Johnson that made it 22-6. Sprinkle in Bradley’s second rushing touchdown of the first half, Davis’s four-yard scamper and Felton’s 37-yard field goal, and Amarillo (9-4) had a 32-6 halftime advantage.
Nothing changed on the Venom’s first possession of the second half. Davis hit Johnson for 20 yards on the first play of the third quarter before Leonard Dixon scored on a two-yard plunge to extend Amarillo’s cushion to 39-6.
“Our offense was really dejected from the last game,” Ponder said. “That play where Carson’s touchdown was waived off before the half was just the beginning of it. We had no rhythm.”
Dodge City finally found their footing on their first possession of the second half. Bernard hooked up with Daniel McKinney, who sprinted his way for a 25-yard touchdown. Bernard then hit Ricardo Johnson in the end zone for two, cutting the Venom lead to 39-14 with 12:55 remaining in the period.
Unfortunately for the Law, it was too little too late.
Amarillo answered with a score of their own. Davis lobbed a perfect spiral to Johnson, who beat E.J. Johnson for a 24-yard touchdown. It was the same play that went for a score in the first half.
“We just couldn’t stop them,” Ponder said. “Every time we would score, they would answer.”
Although the Law had their chance to get back in the game once they cut the deficit to 19 following Bernard’s 45-yard scoring toss to (Ricardo) Johnson. That touchdown was setup after Davis fumbled at the Dodge City 2 on the Venom’s previous possession, when it appeared the ball was across the goal line before the strip.
Amarillo countered with Davis’s 30-yard touchdown pass to former Law wide receiver Julian Walker, who, on the play, appeared to be shoved against the wall by (E.J.) Johnson. But the referee never blew his whistle, and Walker found himself running untouched, down the left sideline and into the end zone, giving the Venom a 53-27 advantage with less than six minutes to go in the third.
The Venom followed that up with scores on their final six possession of the game: a 41-yard field by by Felton and five touchdowns. The last of those was Davis waltzing into the end zone on a naked bootleg putting Amarillo up 98-56. The ensuing two-point try fell short when Davis’s pass to Greg Jones was incomplete.
“These guys gave me everything they had,” Ponder said. “We fought a lot of different things this year, and I’m proud of them.”
Davis passed for a league-best 372 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran it five times for 15 and four scores. (Raymond) Johnson added eight catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
Bernard finished his rookie campaign with a rather underwhelming performance. He was 16-of-27 for 237 yards, five touchdowns and three picks. He carried it 17 times for 77 yards and two scores. McKinney, who was held without a catch in the regular-season finale for the first time all year, reeled in four balls for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
Notes: The 98 points by Amarillo set a league record; it’s also the second highest point total ever in an indoor game (the previous mark was set by the New York Dragons in the Arena Football league back on July 7, 2001-they beat the Carolina Cobras 99-68)…The 42-point loss was the most lopsided defeat in Dodge City’s franchise history…Amarillo scored on 15 of their 19 possessions