Defending champs come up big late; stun Highland on the road

Defending champs come up big late; stun Highland on the road

Highlights

Listen to the complete game in our archives section

By Mike Pilosof

Highland, KS-Trailing 16-6 entering the fourth quarter on Saturday afternoon, the defending national champions were in unfamiliar territory.

During their march to the 2016 national title, Garden City was never behind entering the final period. But Jeff Sims' team has a tendency of breaking trends, even if this time, the third-year coach's blood pressure soared to unmeasurable levels in the process.

Terry Wilson overcame a sluggish start to throw two, second-half touchdown passes, including the go-ahead score with 2:15 remaining, as the third-ranked Broncbusters battled back to beat Highland 27-23 at Kessinger Field for their 13th straight victory.

"This is why I have always said coaching is the dumbest profession ever," Sims said with a laugh following the game. "I'm proud though of how these guys responded in the face of adversity."

Early on, nothing seemed to be going Garden City's (2-0, 1-0) way. Three straight red-zone trips in the first and second quarters resulted in zero points; one of those ended in complete disaster.  

After moving the ball to the Highland 17 (1-1, 1-1) 17, the Broncbusters drive stalled. James White was summoned for a 35-yard field goal, but the low, line-drive kick was blocked by Jahkeem Green. Dominique Williams scooped up the loose ball and returned it 80 yards for the first score of the game.

"Before that kick, I told our team that Highland is really good at blocking kicks," Sims said. "Well then it happened. After that, we made every kick. It's that these guys have to believe what we are telling them."

William Solomon's extra point was blocked, but the Scotties had a 6-0 advantage with 9:57 to go in the first half.

Garden City had two other chances to score inside the Highland 20. The first time, they moved it 59 yards from their own 35 to the Scotties 6. But on fourth-and-1, Wilson was stuffed for no gain.

Later in the second, the Broncbusters used a 10-play drive to reach the Scotties 8. But back-to-back false starts coupled with Wilson's errant pass to Yatil Gant in the end zone thwarted another opportunity.

"I wasn't really frustrated about that," Sims said. "In the back of my mind, I felt eventually we would get rolling. We had proven we could get there. We just needed to finish."

If Highland ever put a real scare into Sims, it was definitely hard to tell. Even when the Scotties turned a third-quarter Wilson interception into a 21-yard Kevin Brown touchdown run that gave the home team a 13-0 lead, Sims was stoic.

"Our staff knew what needed to be done," Sims said. "Once the players figured it out, then we were rolling."

The Broncbusters responded resoundingly, and running back Alaric Williams dusted off his superman cape in time to rescue the brown and gold.

The next time Garden City had the ball, the one-time Auburn signee carried the ball four times for 30 yards, finishing off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run that pulled the Broncbusters to within six with 4:38 to play in the third. After an offside penalty on Highland, Garden City went for two. But Wilson's pass to the back-right corner of the end zone to Davis was knocked away by (Dominque) Williams.

"Unfortunately, Dedrick got hurt," Sims said. "But I'm really proud of Alaric and our offensive line. They made some adjustments, and Alaric took advantage of them."

Highland did not seemed fazed by the sudden change in momentum, using more than four minutes of the third-quarter clock to drive from midfield to the Broncbusters 21. When the drive stalled, Solomon drilled a career-best 39-yard field goal to extend the Scotties lead to 16-6 with 35 seconds left in the third.

"Once we started running to the ball, our defense played better," Sims said. "That wasn't our defense in the first three quarters. We finally saw them show their true colors in the fourth."

Early in the final stanza, Garden City had just converted a third-and-12 when Wilson hit Davis for 13 yards. But on the very next play, the Oregon-transfer overthrew Gant, and Damarion Williams intercepted the pass at the Highland 25.

"Terry still has some room for improvement, but we are very confident in him," Sims said. "They're all correctible mistakes. And our defense came up big when they had to.'

With just over 11 minutes remaining in the game, Scotties' quarterback Kyle Kearns converted a third-and-9 when he hit Willie Jordan for 11 yards to the Highland 39.

That's when everything changed.

On the very next snap, defensive lineman Auston Robertson knocked the ball out of Kevin Brown's hands, eventually picking it up, and running 30 yards for a touchdown to make it a 16-13 game with 11:03 remaining.

"That's exactly what we needed," Sims said. "But that goes back to my belief that eventually we would figure everything out."

Robertson had a sensational day. The transfer from Michigan State, recorded nine tackles, an interception and had two fumble recoveries. But it was the scoop and score that breathed life back into the Garden City cause.

"This was our first road trip with this team," Sims said. "There were a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes from us in this game."

After forcing Highland to punt, the Broncbusters went no huddle, driving 56 yards in six plays before Wilson found Nigel Kilby wide open down the middle of the field for a 28-yard touchdown that gave the Broncbusters their first lead 20-16 at the 8:26 mark.

But after getting the ball back with six minutes left, Garden City left the door open for Aaron Arnold's team, going three-and-out and only taking a minute off of the clock.

"We had to find a way to get a stop," Sims said.

Last year, Highland was down six and driving with a fourth-and-2 at the Broncbusters 11 in the final minute. That's when Jeremy Faulk and Eddie Williams stopped 2016 rushing champion Marquis Terry for no gain.

This time, the Scotties did not waste their scoring chance, getting a big third-down completion when Kearns hit Tra Parker for 14 yards down to the Garden City 29. On the play, the Broncbusters were called for roughing the passer, which put Highland at the 14. Two plays later, Kearns hit Brown on a screen pass, and the freshman did the rest, hurdling over Robertson on his way to a 13-yard score to put the Scotties up 23-20 with 3:23 to go.

"We worked very hard," Sims explained. "And when you do that, good things come to you."

Trailing by three with less than three minutes to play at their own 41, Wilson found Remi Simmons for 14 yards. After Williams was stuffed for no gain, Wilson went back to the air, hitting Davis, who sprinted to the Highland 4 before Darius Johnson tripped him up. On the next play, the freshman quarterback rolled to his right before throwing a pellet to tight end Jeremiah Jackson, who cradled the ball against his chest in the end zone while lying on his hip. White booted through the extra point, and the Broncbusters had a 27-23 cushion with 2:15 left on the clock.

Highland had one last chance to dethrone the defending champs. But a false start, coupled with Rayshawn Wilborn's sack put the finishing touches on the first come-from-behind victory in 2017.

"Highland outplayed us for most of the game," Sims said. "We are very fortunate. We found a way. But that's a great football team we played today."

Wilson completed 17-of-29 passes for 190 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for Garden City, who ended Highland's nine-game home-field winning streak. (Alaric) Williams added 70 yards on the ground and one touchdown, and Kilby had five catches for 73; Davis five for 64.

Kearns, who just arrived on campus last week after transferring from Wake Forest, was 13-of-34, for 136 yards, a touchdown and one interception for Highland. Jordan carried the ball 18 times for 73 yards while Albert Howard caught a team-best four balls for 40.

Notes: Garden City improved to 29-5 all-time vs. Highland…In this series, there have been nine games decided by single digits; Garden City has won five of those…Garden City has won 13 out of their last 14 games…Incredibly, Garden City has only two 3-and-outs in 24 possessions this season (both coming vs. Highland)…Garden City ran more plays (76-69) than Highland, and held the ball for 28 more seconds (29:56 to 29:28); it's the ninth time in their last 12 games that the Broncbusters have had more time of possession than their opponent…The 10-point deficit was the largest overcome in the final quarter by Garden City since Sept. 21, 2013 when they trailed Air Force Prep 34-21 and came back to win 35-34…The Broncbusters held Highland to less than 300 total yards (have held opponents under 300 yards in eight out of their last nine games)…Robertson's scoop and score was Garden City's first defensive touchdown of the season; last year they were third in the country with five

Next up: Garden City at Independence-Saturday, September 6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app

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