By Mike Pilosof
Listen to the complete game in our archives section
Hutchinson, KS-Since walking into his opening-day press conference nearly two years ago, Garden City Coach Jeff Sims has never deviated from the script.
"We will win games by doing the little things," Sims said in December, 2015. "It won't always be pretty."
As big of a cliché as that actually is, that's how the 2016 Broncbusters live.
And that plan, is working to perfection.
There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about Garden City's performance on Saturday. But it was, in a sense, effective.
The Broncbuster defense forced four turnovers and recorded a touchdown while the special teams scored twice as Garden City ended an eight-game losing streak to No. 6 Hutchinson with a 16-14 victory at Gowan's Stadium.
It was the brown and gold's first win in Reno County since 2007.
"I'm so proud of these guys," Sims said afterwards. "I told them that this was all about them. You win games in this league with good players. We have those players, and they earned every bit of this."
And those little things Sims always talks about; well consider this: through four games, the Broncbusters have forced 16 turnovers and only given away four. That plus-12 margin has helped produce the program's first 4-0 start since the turn of the century.
"If you have a championship defense with an offense that doesn't turn the ball over, you have a great chance to be successful in this league," Sims said. "In any league for that matter. Our offense knows that if we get into a bind, the defense will make a play. All we ask is that they don't give the game away."
And for the most part on Saturday, the Broncbuster offense, while limited, did its part.
On their first two series, Garden City (4-0, 3-0) produced just 12 yards on seven plays. But that didn't matter once the Broncbuster defense forced a Hutchinson punt early in the first quarter.
North Carolina transfer Mike Hughes settled under the football and reeled it in at his own 17. Everything after that remains a blur.
"Mike Hughes is unbelievable," Sims said with a big smile. "That guy is so talented. A guy like that comes along in this league once every 10 years."
Once Hughes caught Tyler Harris's punt, the freshman made quick work of the Blue Dragons special team's unit. He zig zagged from the left side of the field to the right, and once he got to the sideline, the result was a mere formality. Hughes hit the jets around midfield and glided for a spectacular 83-yard touchdown that gave Garden City a 6-0 lead with 9:01 to play in the first (Luke Herring pushed the extra point wide left).
"I don't think people understand how talented that guy (Hughes) is," Sims explained. "He can ball."
He's not the only one.
After the Blue Dragons grabbed a 7-6 lead on the heels of a 14-play, 72-yard scoring drive that Tre King punctuated with a one-yard plunge, Garden City defensive back Bryan Blunt showed up in the biggest way possible.
With Hutchinson facing a third-and-13 from their own 30, defensive coordinator Josh Hager dialed up some pressure on freshman quarterback Chaz Capps. As the former Wichita West star took the snap, the pressure forced him to slide to his left. Instead of throwing the ball away, the rookie made a costly mistake by trying to flip a shovel pass to running back Otis Williams. Blunt diagnosed it; raced to Williams; snagged the ball out of the sky and raced 30 yards to the end zone.
"I can't even describe that play," Sims said. "Are you kidding me? How in the world does that guy make that play? I'll tell you this: B.J. Blunt might be the best defensive back in the country; hands down."
That pick-6 put Garden City in front 13-7 with 2:23 to play in the opening period.
"Our defense was out of this world," Sims said. "They just kept making plays."
Early in the second, they presented their offense with another opportunity.
Hutchinson (2-1, 1-1) had the ball first-and-10 at the Broncbuster 48 when Blunt ripped through Capps and jarred the ball loose. Gabe Luyanda recovered for Garden City at the Hutchinson 37.
"We have a motto: Force at least three turnovers every week," Blunt said.
Unfortunately, the Blue Dragon defense never allowed Garden City's offense to get on track, forcing a three-and-out following the turnover.
Then Hutchinson morphed their tempo offense into warp speed.
The Blue Dragons drove 92 yards in 15 blazing plays and regained the lead when Capps hit Josh Reynolds on a fade in the back-left corner of the end zone for a six-yard score.
It was the last time Hutchinson would enter the scoring zone.
"Our guys knew what it took to win this game," Sims said. "And as the game went on, they continued to believe."
This, despite the offense going the first 29:40 without picking up a single first down. That's when Lawson finally delivered.
The transfer from Virginia Tech floated a perfect, back-shoulder throw to Jayru Campbell down the right sideline for a 52-yard gain, and the Broncbusters moved the chains for the first time on the afternoon.
After a long discussion, the referees agreed that Campbell did in fact get out of bounds, and put eight seconds back on the clock. That was more than enough time for Herring and the field goal unit. But as he did on his earlier extra point, his 28-yard attempt sailed wide, and the Broncbusters trailed by two going into the break.
"That would have been unbelievable to take the lead into the half," Sims said. "Hutch's defense is very good; it just wasn't meant to be at that point."
But that momentum carried into the second half.
On Garden City's second possession of the third quarter, the offense that was so anemic in the first half, finally came to life. Lawson hit Ben Phillips on back-to-back plays-first for 25 yards; then for 28 down to the Hutchinson 13. Then, on third-and-11, Lawson hit Campbell on a flanker screen for six yards. Now it was fourth-and-five from the 8.
"I had all the confidence in the world that if we got into that position again, we would make the kick," Sims said.
Herring didn't disappoint.
The freshman kicker drilled a 25-yard field goal to give Garden City the lead for good with 7:19 remaining in the third.
That's all the defense needed.
Hutchinson had five possessions the rest of the way; four of them landed in Garden City territory. Two of them were halted by backbreaking turnovers, including Rashaun Croney's fourth-quarter interception that ended one promising Blue Dragon march.
The final stand came late in the fourth quarter, and it was spearhead by the reigning National Defensive Player of the Year.
After Capps hit Trayvon Jones for 17 yards to the Garden City 38, it was the sophomore who took things into his own hands. Besides saving the touchdown on Jones' catch-and-run, Faulk eventually pulled off his most impressive feat out of his 18-tackle performance.
With Hutchinson facing a fourth-and-11 at the Broncbuster 39, Faulk dropped into coverage. Caps tried to hit Harris on a slant, but Faulk read it and knocked it down.
Ball game over; season-defining win in the books.
"He's (Faulk) the nose guard," Sims said. "When does a nose guard ever have 18 tackles? That's incredible."
Faulk's heroics gave the offense one more chance to seal the deal. This time they delivered.
It was third-and-five with two minutes to play, and Hutchinson had only one timeout remaining.
They never used it.
Tra Minter, whose streak of three straight 100-yard rushing games ended on Saturday, rumbled for an 11-yard gain to the Hutchinson 45. The first down ended any chance of the Blue Dragons getting the ball back.
"We're just trying to go 1-0 every week," Sims said. "That's not just talk; that's what we're about. These guys know this is only one win. But they can enjoy it for a little while and heal it up for Butler."
Lawson finished the afternoon 9-of-18 for 135 yards. He ran it 14 times for 14 while Minter added 48 yards on 24 carries. Phillips caught four balls for 63 and Campbell reeled in two for 58.
Capps was just 12-of-29 for 133 yards, a touchdown and two picks for Hutchinson, who ran 30 more plays (89-59) than Garden City yet lost the time of possession battle 32:50 to 27:10. King ran it 28 times for 94 yards and a score. Williams produced 64 yards on 15 attempts.
Notes: Garden City was just 3-of-17 on third down…There were 19 combined punts (11 for Garden City and eight for Hutchinson)…What a difference a year makes-in last year's matchup, Hutchinson set a school record with 488 rushing yards; on Saturday, the Blue Dragons produced 174 yards on 60 carries (an average of just 2.9 yards per carry)… Garden City held Hutchinson to just 77 rushing yard in the second half…Garden City improved to 16-38 all time at Hutch…This was the 18th meeting between Hutch and Garden that was decided by 10 points or less…Coming in, Garden City had lost 23 out of their last 25 games against ranked opponents…Dating back to last season, Garden City has now won six out of their last seven games…Garden City has forced three or more turnovers in every game this season… …Hutchinson ended a six-quarter, offensive scoring drought when King scored in the first period
Next up: Garden City vs. Butler-Saturday, October 1-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr; mobile app: KWKR