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By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-266 days removed from their national-title victory over Arizona Western, the Broncbusters looked like they had not missed a beat. They also put the rest of the nation on notice that there is no championship hangover.
Running back Charles West scored two second-half touchdowns while the defense limited Ellsworth to just 72 total yards over the final two quarters, as third-ranked Garden City steamrolled the Panthers 31-7 Thursday night at Broncbuster Stadium.
"This was really our first game because we didn't scrimmage," Head Coach Jeff Sims said afterwards. "For the most part, I thought we played well. We still have some things to clean up."
Garden City's (1-0, 0-0) offense looked sharp on their first drive of the game, moving 46 yards in 12 plays before setting up shop at the Ellsworth (0-1, 0-0) 13. But back-to-back incompletions, including a fourth-down errant pass by Terry Wilson, derailed what looked like a promising start."
"We need to finish drives better," Sims said. "I felt like our guys didn't have a lot of energy, and I was worried about that coming in."
After forcing a second Panther punt, the Broncbusters began marching again. On third-and-11, Wilson found a crease, sprinting 17 yards to the Panthers' 18. Three plays later, Wilson lofted a perfect touch pass to tight end Nigel Kilby in the back-right corner of the end zone. The Eastern-Michigan transfer, using all of his 6-8 frame, easily came down with the ball. Moments later, Rayshawn Wilborn ran in the two-point conversion, and Garden City had an 8-0 advantage.
"I thought all of our receivers did a nice job of catching the ball," Sims said. "We've got some talent on that side of the ball."
Despite catching only two balls in his Garden City debut, Kilby's presence opened up the middle of the field for sophomore Daniel Davis, who had a team-best 11 receptions for 82 yards.
"We felt pretty comfortable tonight," Davis said. "Terry and I formed a really good rhythm."
While the offense was flowing early, the defense stumbled a bit, specifically in the second quarter. After holding Ellsworth without a first down over the first 20 minutes, the Panthers picked up six of them on their first drive of the second quarter. That included five third-down conversions, the last of which resulted in Tekendrick Roberson's 10-yard rushing touchdown that cut the Broncbuster lead to 8-7 with 2:45 to go in the half.
"We had to make a few adjustments," Sims said. "They softened us up a bit in the middle, and we have to clean that up."
After totaling just 21 yards in the first quarter, Ellsworth produced 111 in the second, which included 86 yards on the ground.
"Ellsworth is a very well-coached football team," Sims said. "We knew the type of team that we were facing."
The Panthers had a chance to take the lead before the half after Garden City was forced to punt near midfield. But their final march ended when Paris Chambers' heave was knocked away by Jon-Jay Smith, preserving a one-point lead going into the locker room.
"I didn't give them any type of heroic speech," Sims said. "We just kept everyone focused, and knew what we had to do."
Whatever Sims and his staff said, the message was well received. Their second-half dominance epitomized that.
Garden City limited the Panthers to just one first down over the first 18 minutes of the second half. At the same time, the offense found their grove, driving 60 yards in nine plays, and extending the lead when James White drilled a 28-yard field goal to make it 11-7 with 8:52 to play in the third.
Following an Ellsworth three-and-out, the Broncbusters smelled blood. Wilson used his legs to convert a fourth-and two at the Panthers' 46. Two plays later, West broke two tackles en route to a 42-yard rushing touchdown that pushed the Garden City lead to 18-7.
"Charles is a talented football player," Sims said. "I also thought Taylor (Thomas) played well."
West was not finished. On the ensuing Garden City drive, the redshirt freshman was the work horse, carrying three times for 28 yards. He eventually capped the seven-play march with a 20-yard touchdown dash, putting the Broncbusters up 24-7 (White's extra point was blocked by Deangelo Anderson).
"Our offensive line got more push in the second half," Sims said.
The numbers proved that. Garden City ran for 160 yards over the final 30 minutes.
"That running game definitely makes our jobs a lot easier," Davis said. "It balances our offense really well."
In the fourth, Garden City put the game away late. Austin Lawless's sack on fourth-down gave the Broncbusters the ball back at the Ellsworth 31 with 3:43 to play. Three minutes later, Wilson added his second touchdown pass of the night: a 15-yard strike to Yatil Gant that gave the brown and gold a 24-point edge.
"Now it's all about getting the guys who didn't play to buy in," Sims said. "That's the challenge, and I think for the most part, they handled it really well."
Fans also got a glimpse of Sims' newest weapon. Running back Dedrick Mills, who was dismissed from Georgia Tech earlier in the week, carried the ball four times for nine yards. He did fumble once.
"After that fumble, I told Dedrick that it was my fault," Sims said. "I put him in an unfavorable position. He just got here, so he is still digesting the playbook."
Wilson, in his first collegiate start, completed 22-of-34 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. His lone mistake was an underthrown ball late in the second half that was intercepted by Brandon Doyle.
Wilson also added 85 yards on the ground. Thomas carried 10 times for seven yards.
For Ellsworth, Chambers was just 8-of-28, for 50 yards. He ran it 12 times for 55, and Roberson totaled 43 on 12 carries.
"We turned the ball over twice, and that's unacceptable, "Sims said. "We'll watch the film, and make the necessary adjustments."
Next up: Garden City at Highland-Saturday, Sept. 2—12:30 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and mobile app: KWKR