By Mike Pilosof
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Garden City, KS-Garden City Coach Jeff Sims was very concerned entering his team's week-three showdown with Independence.
"People keep telling me how great our defense is," the second-year head man said on Wednesday. "But what I've seen is a defense that hasn't played a full game. I've seen them play two halves."
On Saturday, Sims finally got his wish: four-quarters of championship defense.
The Broncbusters held Independence to just 54 total yards in the second half while forcing four turnovers; running back Tra Minter hit the century mark for the third straight game-23 carries for 112 yards, and Garden City improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2001 with a 25-7 victory over the Pirates at Broncbuster Stadium.
"This was the best game we've played all year," Sims said. "Things are starting to come together. Last year, I didn't believe we were a 3-8 football team. But they didn't believe me. This year, the guys are buying in."
The pass rush displayed Saturday had both K-State transfer Jonathan Banks and one-time Syracuse signee Alin Edouard running for their lives. In all, Josh Hager's defense recorded six sacks and forced two fumbles.
"We have such talent on defense," said Safety Bryan Blunt, who picked off two passes. "Those guys up front make our life so easy on the backend."
It also helped that the offense got them off to a fast start.
Following an Independence (0-2, 0-2) three-and-out on their opening possession, Mike Hughes returned the ensuing kickoff 42 yards to the Pirates 26. Two plays later, Jayru Campbell floated a perfect touch pass down the middle to a wide-open Harley Hazelett who made the catch at the 1 and strolled into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
"We showed a little bit more on offense in this game," Sims said.
That offense featured two quarterbacks: Campbell and Virginia Tech transfer Dwayne Lawson.
"Lawson gives us more of a vertical threat," Sims said. "Jayru is more of a run threat. But in the end, I believe we have three, Division-I caliber quarterbacks."
After Independence tied the game with a 15-play, 73-yard scoring drive that Eric Graham capped off with a one-yard touchdown run, Lawson, who just arrived on campus 10 days ago, showed promise, rifling a pass to Delshawn Phillips on second and-12 that moved the ball to the Pirates' 1. On the next play Lawson used his strength on a quarterback sneak to plow into the end zone and give the Broncbusters the lead back. An offsides penalty nullified a blocked kick on the extra point, and Lawson took advantage, running in the two-point conversion for 15-7 advantage with 2:09 to go in the half.
"We struggled a little bit early on offensively," Sims said. "But I think Dwayne (Lawson) changed that. He loosened up the box."
With Lawson taking the majority of the snaps in the second half, the Broncbusters, who were held to just 34 yards rushing on 20 carries in the first half, ripped off 203 yards on 37 rushes over the final 30 minutes, including Minter's 53-yard dash to pay dirt early in the third that put Garden City (3-0, 2-0) on top 22-7.
The defense took it from there.
First Blunt made a leaping interception at the Garden City 10 to thwart one drive. The next time the Pirates had the ball, it was Blunt again, this time picking off Edouard in the end zone ending another scoring threat.
"I read the quarterbacks' eyes," Blunt said of his two thefts. "But all the credit goes to that defensive line. They put pressure on the quarterback."
"We're excited to be 3-0, but it doesn't mean anything without going 1-0 next week," Blunt said. "That's our focus."
Campbell finished the afternoon 6-of-7 for 94 yards and a score. Lawson was 4-of-9 for 73 with two picks; one of those bounced off the hands of Ben Phillips and was intercepted by former Oklahoma State commit Jaylon Lane. He also added 10 carries for 46.
Daniel Davis caught four balls for 59 yards for Garden City, who put up 412 yards of total offense. Phillips, in his first action of the season, reeled in four balls for 40 yards.
Banks finished 14-of-18 for 99 yards and a pick for Independence. Edouard was 2-of-6 for 34 yards and an interception while Calvin Jackson caught five passes for 51 yards.
Notes: Broncbusters kicker Luke Herring converted on his first career field goal-a 23-yarder early in the fourth that gave Garden City a 25-7 lead…Garden City has now forced 12 turnovers in 3 games…Garden City averaged just 1.7 yards per carry in the first half compared to 5.5 in the second half…Garden City possessed the ball for 36:07 and ran 17 more plays than Independence (75-58)…The Broncbusters averaged nearly 8 yards per play on third down
Next up: Garden City at Hutchinson, Saturday September 17-11:30 a.m. pregame; 12 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr; mobile app: KWKR