By Mike Pilosof
Iowa Falls, IA-Pretty never wins championships. Domination does. And on the second Saturday in September, Garden City turned defense into an art form.
Dillon Williams recorded a season high 16 tackles, including two big sacks in the second half, Charles West notched his fourth career, 100-yard rushing game, and the seventh-ranked Broncbusters held off Ellsworth 16-8 at Cadet Field.
"Our guys did a good job of understanding the concepts within the game," Sims said. "What's funny is that as we were walking off the field, I gave Dillon a couple of coaching tips. He had 16 tackles, but he probably could have had 19 or 20."
Williams set the tone for a defense that completely shutdown the Panthers attack. They limited Ellsworth (0-3) to just 46 yards in the first half and 168 for the game while forcing five three-and-outs on the Panthers final seven possessions.
"The reason Williams had so many tackles is because he's talented and he works together with the rest of his team," Sims said.
While the defense was in fine form, the offense struggled to get anything going. On their opening possession, Garden City (2-0, 1-0) failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at their own 48. That was followed up by back-to-back three-and-outs. And In the end, the Broncbusters produced just one first down and 42 yards over the first 15 minutes.
"We had to compensate today because our offense couldn't find much of a rhythm," Sims said.
With the offense a little off kilter, Garden City relied on their special teams, a unit that struggled in week one.
Late in the first quarter, Ellsworth was punting from their own 22. Tyler Amundson never knew what hit him. Josh Mercer sliced inside the protection and batted the ball into the air. Dedrick Mills caught it, and returned it to the Panthers' 15. A personal-foul facemask moved Garden City to the 8, and two plays later, Mills blasted into the end zone to give Garden City a 6-0 edge (the two-point conversion failed) with 1:12 left in the period.
"I still don't know where we are as a football team," Sims said. "Last week, we didn't feel the defense played well. Then this week, they came out with something to prove. Last week, our offense was really good. This week, we just weren't there. So, it's still a feeling out process."
Sims' special teams unit kept on coming the next time the Panthers were punting from their own 7. And on the first play of the second quarter, the rush forced Amundson to stumble and fall on the end line in the back of the end zone, producing a safety and two points for Garden City.
"Special teams played well," Sims admitted. "But we still have to better on our angles. We had two roughing penalties because guys took bad angles."
On their second possession of the second quarter, the Broncbusters' offense finally put something together. West rumbled for 15 yards on second-and-4, Mills slammed his way for three on third-and-3 from the Panthers' 22 before converting another third down when Mills maneuvered for four yards to the 8. Three plays later, the Nebraska-commit found a crease up the middle, plowing into the end zone from four yards out, Kahari Foy Walton ran in the two-point conversion, and Garden City had a 16-0 edge with 7:28 remaining in the half.
"The guys have to realize that they aren't going to rush for 500 yards every week," Sims said. "We had guys mad on the sidelines because they weren't breaking 80-yard runs. And I think they felt that they could do that every time."
Looking to add to their cushion before the half, the Broncbusters moved 54 yards in 11 plays to the Ellsworth 8. But on third-and-goal, David Moore's pass to Tylin Oden in the back-left-corner of the end zone, fluttered, and was picked off by Roland Williams.
"We made mistakes that you can't make in that area of the field," Sims said. We should have been up three scores going into the locker room."
Instead, it left the door slightly ajar for the Panthers, and in the third quarter, Tony Haynes' team produced their lone scoring drive of the day: five plays, 70 yards that included a 38-yard hookup between quarterback Mark Wright and tight end Julius Coates. Two plays after that, Haynes, who spent the last two years drawing up offensive plays at Coffeyville, went deep into his bag of tricks, calling for a wide-receiver option pass where Tariq Young flipped a perfect spiral to Jordan Foster in the right corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown. Wright followed that up by connecting with Donald Brown for the two pointer, pulling Ellsworth to within eight with 6:16 to go in the period.
"You can't let your guard down at any point," Sims said. "We called plays offensively this week that didn't necessarily fit the concepts of what we were doing. That's great that we ran it 65 times, but we couldn't convert a couple of fourth-and-1's. That could have cost us."
Ellsworth only saw the right side of the 50 one more time after that scoring drive, as Josh Hager's unit put the clamps down, allowing just five first downs over the final two quarters.
"The defensive coaches did a great job of coaching these guys up this week," Sims said. "So did the offensive coaches, but we have to be even better this week."
Ellsworth had one final chance to tie the game in the final two minutes of the fourth. Wright broke free for two long runs: 23 and 14 yards on back-to-back plays that pushed Ellsworth across midfield. But that's when Williams made his presence felt. The sophomore, who briefly left the program for the KCAC this summer, sacked Wright on a third-and-2 from the Broncbuster 35. Then on fourth-and-9, Williams flushed Wright out of the pocket, forcing an errant throw down the middle, finishing off an eight-point victory, and giving Garden City their third straight 2-0 start.
"The schedule is about to get real," Sims explained. "So we have to get better as a football team."
West finished the afternoon with 120 yards on 27 carries for the Broncbusters, who won for the 11th time in their last 12 road games. Mills added 66 yards and two scores, and Moore was 6-of-10 for 54 yards and an interception.
Wright completed 4-of-6 passes for 52 yards for Ellsworth, who dropped to 0-3 for the first time since 1998. He added 27 yards on the ground, and Coates caught two balls for 46.
Next up: Garden City at Independence-Saturday, Sept. 15-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM