By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Garden City Coach Jeff Sims called Hutchinson's offensive and defensive lines the best in the conference.
And while they proved that most of the night, one play in the waning seconds epitomized the veteran skipper's statements.
The 11th-ranked Broncbusters erased a two-touchdown deficit in the second half, and had the ball down three with less than a minute to go. But backup defensive end Jeffmario Brown knifed his way through the Broncbusters' line and forced Garden City quarterback Terry Wilson into an errant throw on fourth down from the Hutchinson 23, as the Blue Dragons held on for a 31-28 heart-palpitating victory at Broncbuster Stadium on Saturday night.
"Our biggest problem is that we are a terrible practice team," Sims said afterwards. "And that shows in certain situations. I can think of five plays in this game where guys didn't do what they were supposed to."
Garden City found themselves in a 28-14 hole in the third quarter thanks in large part to Alabama-transfer B.J. Emmons, who scored two of his four rushing touchdowns in the period: a two-yarder that capped off a five-play, 63-yard drive to make it 21-14, and a three-yard dash that polished off a five-play, 56-yard march for a two-touchdown lead. The common theme on both drives: the big play, which, for the second straight week, haunted Garden City.
Hutchinson (3-1, 2-0) quarterback Cam Jones connected with tight end Leroy Watson for a 45-yard gain on the Blue Dragons first possession of the third. After they scored, Garden City went three-and-out. When Hutchinson got the ball back, Jones again found Watson, this time for 24 yards down to the Garden City 3. Then the Blue Dragons specialty: the wild cat in the red zone where they direct snapped it to Emmons, who sprinted left and found pay dirt for a 14-point advantage with 7:51 remaining in the third.
"If you don't practice right, it will eventually show up in games," Sims said. "We've had three straight games where we could have won on the final possession. We succeeded at Highland but have failed the last two weeks."
But it wasn't for a lack of effort.
Garden City (2-2, 1-2) showed their resilience moments after Hutch took a two-score lead. On first-and-10 from their own 35, Wilson hooked up with Aaron Willis on a post pattern for a 65-yard touchdown that pulled the Broncbusters to within seven 28-21 with 7:37 to play in the quarter.
"Terry is a very talented quarterback, and he showed that tonight," Sims said. "He made some great decisions and some not-so great ones."
That 65-yard missile highlighted a night where Wilson threw for 358 yards and four touchdowns. It was the best single-game performance since Todd Porter threw for 371 yards and five scores in a win over Iowa Central in 2015.
"Terry is learning each and every week," Sims said. "But sometimes it takes a guy three or four times, in a specific situation, to learn from his mistakes."
Down seven, the Broncbusters had three chances to tie the game in the third and fourth quarters. Two of those drives ended with a punt. However the last one, was one of the not-so-good moments for Wilson.
On the first play of the final period, Wilson dropped back on fourth-and-3 from the Blue Dragons' 44. After scanning the field, the redshirt freshman fired a line-drive pass that linebacker Guy Victoria picked off and returned 28 yards to the Broncbusters' 40.
"I'm proud of Terry for making the mistakes and then coming back," Sims said. "But in the end, as a team, we have to make winning plays. We didn't do that tonight. It should never have come down to that final drive."
Following the turnover, Hutchinson began a time-consuming, 14-play march that ate up more than seven minutes of the fourth-quarter clock. The only saving grace for Garden City came on third-and goal from the 2 where center Dominic Taylor's snap rolled past Emmons, who eventually fell on it back at the 10 for an eight-yard loss. Luke Nieymeyer salvaged the drive with a 28-yard field goal, and Hutchinson had a 31-21 cushion with 7:02 left.
"We came up with some big plays tonight," Sims added. "That stand was big because it kept us within striking distance."
Garden City appeared on the precipice of making it a three-point game the next time they had the ball. But once they crossed midfield, Wilson made a costly mistake, zipping an overthrown ball down the middle that was picked off by safety Adrian Cross.
"Sometimes, when a guy tries to make a play, he tries too hard," Sims said. "That was a perfect example."
With the clock becoming a major issue, the Broncbusters stymied Hutchinson on three straight plays, forcing a punt from their own 15 with 3:14 remaining.
"I think our guys will realize in four or five weeks that hey, we can win these games at the end," Sims said. "The problem is, it may be too late by then."
Down 31-21 with only one timeout and 3:14 remaining, Garden City quickly dissected the Blue Dragons defense. Wilson and tight end Nigel Kilby, who finished the night with a game-best 10 catches for 115 yards, hauled in three balls on the drive, the final one was a 10-yard touch pass by Wilson in the back-right corner of the end zone that trimmed the Blue Dragons' lead to 31-28 with 2:11 left.
"I thought this one would have been bigger than last week," Sims said. "It just didn't work out that way for us."
But when Garden City recovered an onside kick at their own 49, the Broncbusters were in prime position to pull off another miracle.
Two weeks ago at Highland, the brown and gold overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun Highland 27-23. Seven days later, Garden City was down 27-14 in the final period at Independence before their furious rally fell short, thanks to two sacks on the Broncbusters' final possession.
Late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Garden City appeared to have Hutchinson on their heels. First, they converted a fourth-and-1 at the Blue Dragons' 42 when Wilson hit Daniel Davis for two yards. Then, on third-and-3 from the Blue Dragons' 33, Wilson again connected with Davis for four yards to move the chains. But after hitting Charles West for a six-yard gain on first down, Wilson fired back-to-back incompletions, setting up a fourth-and-4 at the Hutchinson 23. Now it was decision time for Sims: kick the field goal to tie it or go for the win.
"James White is automatic in practice from the 20 in," the third-year coach explained. "I called a timeout and asked him if he could make the kick. He responded by saying: coach I will try. Some of the guys overheard that and yelled let's go. And it's nothing against James, he's a great kicker. But our guys felt that we could make three yards."
There were plenty of variables working against the Broncbusters, including a stiff 15-mph gust coming out of the north. So they trotted the offense back onto the field.
"I felt like our coaches vs. their coaches for one play, we would win," Sims said. "So we took a chance."
Rushing only four men, the Blue Dragons bared down on Wilson, and Brown grabbed the first-year signal caller around the knees from behind and forced a wobbly pass that was nowhere close to an intended target.
"It's just hard to believe that we've been in that situation three weeks in a row," Sims said. "I thought we should have lost the game vs. Highland. Last week, I believed we played well enough to win. Tonight, we made too many mistakes."
Those mistakes cost Garden City dearly in the first half.
On Hutchinson's first possession of the game, a blown assignment allowed a simple screen pass from Jones to DeShawn Waller to gain 13 yards and a first down. Emmons followed that up with a 34-yard dash that moved the ball down to the 3. Three plays later, Emmons found the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
"We have a tendency of getting off to slow starts," Sims said.
Garden City answered back on their first drive, moving 80 yards in eight plays to the Hutchinson 6. Then on fourth-and-goal, Wilson fired over the middle towards the end line for Remi Simmons. The pass though was too tall for the freshman receiver so, as he was falling out of bounds, he tipped the ball up in the air with his right hand, and Kilby grabbed it for a touchdown. It was one of those plays that defies all logic because Kilby was surrounded by three white shirts.
"We probably should have scored on third down," Sims said. "But we punched it in, and we got a lucky bounce."
The game remained tied before the Blue Dragons caught a major break late in the second quarter.
Facing a fourth-and-1 at their own 29, Sims opted for a fake punt. West took the snap and pitched back to kicker James Dall who was dropped two-yards shy of the first down.
"Sometimes, during the course of the game, you have to take chances," Sims said. "I was confident in our defense at that point."
Hutchinson took advantage of the Broncbusters fourth-down failure. After a penalty, Jones hit Jawaun Johnson for 30 yards down to the 1. Two plays later, Emmons squeaked across the goal line, giving the Blue Dragons a 14-7 lead going into the locker room.
"Sometimes a play works out, and sometimes it doesn't," Sims explained. "That play didn't work out."
The Broncusters eventually tied the game on their first possession of the third quarter. Wilson capped off an eight-play march with a 10-yard touchdown toss to Kilby.
Wilson finished the night 32-of-55 for 358 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Davis added nine catches for 117 yards, and Maciah Long recorded a team-best 13 tackles.
Jones was 9-of-21 for 184 yards for Hutchinson, who avenged last year's two-point loss to Garden City at home. Emmons carried the ball 25 times for 64 yards and four scores, and Johnson had three catches for 82.
Notes: Kilby and Davis became just the second tandem in program history to go over 100-yards receiving in the same game; the only other time it happened was when Marquis Harris (152 yards) and Roger Ross (117) did it vs. Air Force Prep in 1998…The Blue Dragons won their fifth straight game in Garden City…The Broncbusters outgained Hutchinson 411 to 334 but lost the time of possession battle 33:52 to 26:08…Hutchinson, who entered play as the sixth most penalized team, drew 12 flags for 99 yards…Wilson became the first Broncbuster quarterback since Nick Marshall to have 50 or more pass attempts in a game (Marshall had 52 in the 2012 regular-season finale vs. Coffeyville)…It was only the second time in the last 21 years that a game in the series had been decided by three points or less (2016: Garden City won 16-14)
Next up: Garden City at Butler-Saturday, September 30-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app