Special to Rocking M Media
[GARDEN CITY, Kan.]
When Tom Minnick goes back and watches the game film from this one, he’ll notice two things: first and foremost, his defense is as good as it gets; a championship-caliber unit that would give the 2016 team a run for its money. But the offense is clearly a work in progress and appeared stuck in mud for most of Saturday’s top-10 showdown.
Despite holding the sixth-ranked Pirates to just 120 total yards, No. 3 Garden City couldn’t get out of their own way. Ryan Felker’s offense turned it over six times, RJ Walker added a passing touchdown, and Independence beat Garden City at Broncbuster Stadium for the second straight time, 26-13.
“We just haven’t been consistent on offense,” Minnick said afterwards. “Injuries haven’t helped us, but we made so many mistakes.”
Of the six turnovers, none of them stung as bad as the two that completely flipped the game early in the fourth quarter. Nursing a 13-10 lead and facing a second-and-6 at the Independence 18, quarterback Matthew Purnell was stripped, Kywon McCray scooped it up and raced 77 yards for the go-ahead score. Then, on Garden City’s ensuing possession, Markus Knight picked up a Dedrick Talbert fumble and waltzed 28 yards for a touchdown. Two scoop-and-scores in less than 60 seconds, a sequence that had Broncbuster Stadium as quiet as it’s ever been. It was one of the most cataclysmic momentum shifts in recent memory.
“You’re not going to win any games turning the ball over the way we did” Minnick added. “That just can’t happen.”
Turnovers coupled with a slew of missed opportunities, cost Garden City its second straight 3-0 start. Up 10-0 after Purnell’s sensational 16-yard touchdown run and Jason Hernandez’s 37-yard field goal in the first quarter, the Broncbusters had a chance to put their foot on the Pirates’ throat. But after picking up a first down on Jacobi Bellazin’s 13-yard run that moved the ball to the Independence 27, the brown and gold went backwards. A reverse to Keyshawn Buckley lost 13 yards before Purnell was pummeled by Will Whitson, who knocked the ball free. CJ Welch recovered, and the Pirates were in business. Two plays later, Walker connected with Almount Smith in the back-left corner of the end zone, capping a potential 14-point swing.
“We couldn’t finish drives all night,” Minnick stated.
The Broncbusters managed to stretch the lead early in the second, but even that will go down as another blown chance. Will Knight’s 48-yard rumble set Garden City up at the Pirates’ 5. But when Purnell was stuffed at the one-yard line on first down, the Broncbusters lost three yards on their next two plays. Hernandez salvaged the drive with a 21-yard field goal to make it 13-7, but it was another red zone gaff, one that cost Garden City a two-score lead.
“When you have the ball that close, you have to score, period,” Minnick said.
Independence, which only managed nine first downs and 21 rushing yards on the night, pulled within three on Brandon Gielow’s 35-yard field goal late in the first half. It was 13-10 at the break.
“Independence is a good team, but we handed them the game,” Minnick said.
Meantime, the Broncbuster defense kept the pressure on in the second half. Jacob Hollins and Alexander Lemon recorded sacks on consecutive plays to force a fourth-and-27 near midfield. That was followed up by a three-and-out late in the third period. But everything changed with Purnell’s redzone turnover.
“We have to get better, we said it after the Highland game,” Minnick said. “Our offense has to help the defense out.”
Purnell finished the night 3-of-6 for 47 yards and a pick while also running for 25 yards on 16 carries for Garden City. David Elder caught three balls for 47 yards, and Hollins tallied seven tackles and a quarterback sack.
Walker completed 10-of-25 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown for Independence, and Jared Martino carried the ball 15 times for 25 yards.