By Mike Pilosof
Independence, KS-After overcoming a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit against Highland in week two, the defending national champions found themselves in a similar predicament seven days later in Independence.
This time, the magic that carried Garden City to 21 points over the final 15 minutes vs. the Scotties, dissipated into the humid night in Eastern Kansas. So to, did the champs 13-game winning streak.
Florida-State transfer Malik Henry threw two touchdown passes to Washington-State commit Calvin Jackson, Jamal Scott ran for a season-best 195 yards, and Independence stunned No. 3 Garden City 27-23 Saturday night at Shulthis Stadium. The loss, snapped the Broncbusters eight-game road winning streak.
"They (Independence) deserved to win this game," Garden City Head Coach Jeff Sims said. "They converted on third-and-short and fourth-and-short all night."
Even after the Pirates hit the Garden City (2-1, 1-1) defense with two long touchdown passes and two long scoring runs, Sims' team would not go away. Trailing 27-14 with less than four minutes to go, the Broncbuster offense appeared lifeless, that was until a second-and-5 play from their own 29. That's when quarterback Terry Wilson, extended the play with his legs, rolled to his right, and lofted a majestic rainbow to wide receiver Remi Simmons, who caught it in stride, and raced 71 yards to the end zone to cut the Independence (2-1, 1-1) advantage to 27-21 with 3:03 left in the fourth.
"That was just Terry extending the play," Sims said. "He kept the play alive long enough to where the coverage broke down, and Remi was wide open."
The electrifying score seem to jolt the Broncbusters back to life, and Independence nearly helped create their own demise.
On the ensuing kickoff, Carlos Thompson fielded a bouncing ball in his own end zone. Instead of taking a knee, Thompson tried to run it out. But he was met by a wall of Broncbuster defenders, who tripped him up at the 3-yard line.
"I felt very confident at that point," Sims said. "We've shown the ability to comeback in those types of situations. It just didn't happen tonight."
The Pirates did pick up one first down, but failed to convert a third down at their own 16. Instead of sacrificing field position, Independence Coach Jason Brown instructed his punter Paul Wolff to take a safety. The sophomore obliged, which brought the Broncbusters to within four with two minutes remaining.
"I thought we would drive down and win the game," Sims said. "But we are such a young team. Right now, these guys are hoping things happen. Last year's team was the culmination of two years of hard work. Those guys knew how to win games."
Charles West returned the ensuing free kick 36 yards to the Garden City 46. An offside penalty on the Pirates moved the ball to the Independence 48. Everything was setup for another fourth-quarterback.
"We put ourselves in that position," Sims said. "But we still had a chance to win the game."
On first down, Jequaries Martin sacked Wilson back at his own 35. With the clock running and no timeouts, the redshirt-freshman quarterback gathered himself and threw a pellet to Daniel Davis who hauled in the perfect spiral for a gain of 20 to the Pirates 45. But on third-and-6, Wilson had no chance, and defensive end Jermaine Johnson buried him behind the line.
"The first sack, Terry should have thrown the ball away," Sims explained. "The second one, he had no time."
With the clock running inside of a minute, the Broncbusters had one last chance to salvage the game, but Wilson's desperation heave up the left sideline for Yatil Gant, was knocked away by Dorian Williams, completing the biggest upset of the 2017 season.
"I never yelled at Terry," Sims said. "All I told him was to learn from this moment and move on. He's a very talented player, who will get better with time."
Wilson's counterpart Henry, lived up to his billing as a five-star recruit, although a slow start nearly buried the former Seminole.
Early in the first, Henry tried to hand the ball off to Michigan-transfer Kingston Davis. But the exchange was not clean, and Auston Robertson recovered for the Broncbusters.
Four plays later, Alaric Williams powered into the end zone from three yards out to give Garden City a 7-0 lead just four minutes into the contest.
That's when Henry finally got going.
After three straight penalties backed the Pirates into a first-and-35 from their own 31, Henry went to work. First he hit tight end Bryson Cannon for 13 yards. Then he reared back and lofted a bomb down the left sideline that Jackson caught for a 56-yard touchdown that knotted the game 7-7.
"We had good coverage on those big plays tonight," Sims said. "I saw our guy trying to make a play, and their guy winning the battle."
Independence kept rolling from there. Following a Broncbuster punt, the Pirates shifted to the running game, and on second-and-5 from their own 32, Scott bounced to the left, and outraced the Garden City defense for a 72-yard score. It was the longest play ever allowed by Josh Hager's defense.
"Give them credit; they had some big plays," Sims said. "You only have to better than your opponent on one day. Tonight, Independence was better."
As they did vs. Highland, the Broncbuster defense bounced back, and early in the second, defensive end Austin Lawless knocked the ball out of Scott's hands and recovered it at the Pirates 48. Six plays later, Wilson found pay dirt, scampering eight yards to the end zone on a zone read. James White's extra point tied the game again at 14 with 10:15 to play until halftime.
The Broncbusters even had a chance to take the lead before the break. But after reaching the Independence 14, Wilson fired back-to-back incompletions, turning the ball over on downs.
"I've said it all season: we have to finish drives," Sims said.
On their first drive of the third quarter, the Broncbusters appeared in rhythm, moving the ball from their own 38 to the Pirates 32. But a holding call coupled with an illegal block derailed the drive, and eventually Wilson pooch punted on second-and-36.
The Pirates took full advantage of Garden City's missed opportunity.
A defensive holding call followed up by a third-and-1 conversion where Henry hit Cannon for 21 yards, moved the ball to the Broncbusters 28. Then on third-and-13, Henry spun his best pass of the night, hitting an outstretched Jackson in the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown to put the Pirates on top 21-14. On the play, cornerback Tyler Evans had blanket coverage.
"That's a play where their guy came down with the ball," Sims said. "I've said this over and over, this isn't the national championship team from last year. These guys didn't win it. They have to go out and prove themselves."
Later in the period, Independence was driving again. The march looked like it was going to stall after Henry threw an incomplete pass on third-and-5. However, and illegal shift penalty was called on the Pirates, and Sims elected to accept rather than decline. Henry again took advantage, connecting with Jackson for seven yards. Then on the first play of the final quarter, facing a fourth-and-3, Scott sprinted right up the middle, untouched for a 40-yard touchdown. A bad snap on the extra point, resulted in a failed conversion, but Independence had a 27-14 cushion with 14:53 to go in the game.
"Those short down and distance plays absolutely killed us," Sims said. "But we'll work and come back next week because our schedule doesn't get any easier."
Wilson completed 13-of-24 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown for Garden City, who lost their first road game since Oct. 17, 2015. He ran it 17 times for 37 while West added 18 carries for 79. Daniel Davis had six catches for 64 yards, and Simmons hauled int two for 72.
Henry was 17-of-25 for 207 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, which he threw in the fourth-quarter when Georgia-Tech transfer Meiko Dotson picked him off in the end zone. Jackson had a game-high 94 yards receiving while Carlos Thompson, who was recruited to Garden City when Brown was Sims' offensive coordinator, caught seven balls for 51 yards.
Notes: The Pirates have won three of the last four games between the two teams played at Shulthis Stadium…Through their first two games, the Broncbusters had only two 3-and-outs. On Saturday, they had six, four of those came in the second half…Independence had 365 total yards—it's only the third time in the last 14 games that the Broncbusters allowed 300 or more…Scott became just the second running back in the last 16 games to rush for 100 yards…The Pirates won the game despite being penalized 15 times for 102 yards…Garden City was just 2-of-14 on third down…Garden City still leads the all-time series 49-23-1
Next up: Garden City vs. Hutchinson, Saturday, Sept. 16-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app