By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Adam Shrimplin
Hutchinson, KS-Jeff Sims walked into Gowans Stadium about two hours before kickoff on Saturday with a huge smile. The 46-year old coach appeared more relaxed than usual, even as his team prepared to engage in one of their most grueling tests of the season.
Sims doesn't do much reflecting during the year, but even he had to sit back and admire his team's work on Saturday. Even if the result was in doubt up until the final seconds.
Charles West returned from injury to rush for 130 yards, but his most important contribution came on the receiving end with 18 seconds to go, reeling in David Moore's go-ahead, six-yard touchdown pass that gave No. 2 Garden City a thrilling 24-21 victory over fourth-ranked Hutchinson. The win clinched at least a share of the Jayhawk Conference Championship for the second time in three seasons.
"We just have to stick to what we do," West said afterwards. "We knew this was going to be a tough game and that it was going to be a battle to the end."
That may be the understatements of all understatements, and in the end, the first Jayhawk Conference showdown between top-five opponents in eight years, produced one of the best regular-season games in recent memory.
Trailing 21-17 with less than four minutes to play, Garden City was 86 yards from the go-ahead score. That's when offensive coordinator John Powers slightly changed course.
For most of the day, the Broncbusters continued to run the ball despite uneven results. On their season-saving drive, they never completely abandoned the ground game, they just busted out another weapon; someone who was definitely up for the challenge.
Memphis-transfer David Moore was sharp, hitting his old Tiger-teammate Jahod Booker for 19 yards to the Broncbuster 43. On the next play, the sophomore whistled a pass to West, who banged his way up the sideline for 16 and another first down.
"I have no problem saying that we have the best quarterback in the Jayhawk Conference," Sims said. "Even if he doesn't throw it 30 times per game. He came here to win a championship, and he has totally bought in."
Moore hooked up with Booker one more time for 12 yards to the 29. But on first down, he made his only mistake of the day when Clarence Hicks crunched him to the ground for a seven-yard loss.
"I was pretty upset that he took a sack there," Sims said. "But only because he wasn't being a quarterback. He was trying to make a play. Sometimes being a quarterback is doing something different. For the most part, he was a quarterback today, and that's why we won this game."
Moore wasn't down for long, coming back on the next play to fire a strike to Keyshawn Jones for 16 yards. After West totaled seven on first and second down, Moore tried to outrace linebacker Monty Montgomery to the marker. But the sophomore, who had three defensive touchdowns coming into the game, tracked down the signal caller two yards shy of the first down setting up a make-it or break-it fourth down.
"That Hutchinson team is one of the best defenses that we've seen," Sims said.
Needing two yards, Powers lined Dedrick Mills up in the wildcat, and the Nebraska commit did not disappoint, plunging up the middle for three yards and a first down. On the very next play, Moore connected with West, who, after making the biggest catch of his career, laid in the north end zone totally exhausted.
"That guy gave every single drop of energy to this team in this game," Sims said. "He was physically exhausted."
What was even more impressive about the final result, was how the game started. Garden City ran just five plays in the first quarter and gained seven yards, all while Hutchinson drove right down the field against Josh Hager's defense, punctuating their opening drive with Mason Schucker's 52-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Erwin that gave the Blue Dragons a 7-0 lead. After the Broncbusters went three-and-out, Hutchinson began to march again, picking up a fourth-and-1 at the Garden City 23. But the Broncbuster defense stiffened, and Jabbar Price sacked Schucker on third down forcing a punt.
"I said it earlier this week: I don't think we have the most talented defense," Sims said. "But they outwork everyone. And that makes them special."
Hager's unit kept coming, and in the second quarter, Kahari Foy Walton stripped Schucker, and the Broncbusters recovered at the Hutchinson 39. 11 plays later, Mills powered into the end zone from four yards out to tie the game.
"We live by what Coach Sims tells us: stay patient and stay with the program," West said. "If you do that, you'll be successful."
Both teams had opportunities to take the lead in the second quarter. Ben Raybon though missed a 45-yard field goal for Garden City before Hutchinson's Sebastian Garcia misfired from 46, leaving the score tied at the half.
In the third quarter, the Blue Dragons were pinned inside their own 5 on their first possession. But that didn't stop running back Dezmond Jackson, who gashed the Broncbusters for a 97-yard touchdown that put Hutchinson (8-2, 6-1) back on top, 14-7.
Garden City (9-0, 6-0) responded later in the period, marching 68 yards in seven plays. Ironically, Moore, who had not thrown a pass to that point, rifled a pellet to Dominick Watt, who maneuvered 22 yards for a touchdown to knot the score.
"You just have to keep fighting," West said. "We have to trust that our coaches put us in the right position, and they always do."
Raybon added a 23-yard field goal with 55 seconds to play in the third, giving the Broncbusters their first lead, 17-14. Unfortunately it didn't stick.
It appeared Garden City had stopped Hutchinson on third-and-8 from the Broncbuster 33. Schucker was pressured up the middle and hit as he released the ball. But Kyshonn Tyson was flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty that extended the drive. On the next play, Jackson bounced to the outside, and raced 18 yards to the end zone to put the Blue Dragons up 21-17 with 9:39 remaining.
"I tell these guys all the time, just give yourself a chance at the end," Sims said. "We did that today."
Moore finished the day 7-of-11 for 98 yards and two touchdowns for the Broncbusters, who won their second straight game in Hutchinson. Mills totaled 43 yards on 19 carries and a score while Booker caught three balls for 38.
Schucker was 12-of-21 for 162 yds and one touchdown for the Blue Dragons, who lost at home for the second time this season. Jackson reached the century mark for the sixth time this year, carrying the ball 24 times for 174 and two scores. Erwin had four catches for 110.
Next up: Garden City vs. Butler-Saturday, Nov. 10-12:30 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. kickoff on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app