By Mike Pilosof
Listen to the complete game in our archives section
Garden City, KS-Before the season ever started, Garden City Coach Jeff Sims made a sincere proclamation.
"I don't care what the polls say, Iowa Western is the best team in the country," he said back in August.
Saturday, Broncbuster fans got an up-close glimpse at a junior-college juggernaut, one that resembled the same team Sims coached to a national championship in 2016.
Mehki Sargent broke the Reivers single-game school record, rushing for 370 yards and three touchdowns, his team rolled up 472 on the ground, and No. 2 Iowa Western beat 20th-ranked Garden City 41-14 Saturday afternoon at Broncbuster Stadium.
"That's what a junior-college team is supposed to look like," Sims said after the game. "They will be playing for the national championship. There is no doubt in my mind."
And after Saturday's performance, people may look at you cross eyed if you argue the contrary.
The Reivers scored on four of their first five possessions, jumping out to a 28-3 lead midway through the second quarter
"I told our guys: that's what you need to aspire to be," Sims said. "That team kicked our tail."
While Sargent grabbed most of the headlines with his record-setting performance, the Reivers offensive line, which consisted of three returning starters, including No. 1 JUCO left tackle Anthony McKinney, paved the way for an earth-shattering performance. The 472 rushing yards is the sixth most allowed by Garden City in a game in program history, and is the most allowed since giving up 493 to Hutchinson during Sims' first season in 2015.
"Their offensive line is the best in the country," Sims said. "No one will touch them because of that."
Sargent began his record-setting day with a 16-yard touchdown run that capped off a nine-play, 69-yard scoring drive on their first possession.
After Garden City (4-3, 3-2) got on the board with a 31-yard, James White field goal, the Reivers began marching again late in the first quarter. University of Texas transfer Kai Locksley surgically dissected the Broncbusters secondary, completing 3-of-4 passes on the drive, including a 13-yard scoring toss to wide receiver Mike Hill that put the Reivers in front 14-3 with 30 seconds left in the opening frame.
"Iowa Western is a better football team," Sims said. "Just look who they have playing quarterback. The guy played at Texas last year. Look at their offensive line."
The Reivers kept pouring it on in the second. First Locksley strolled into the end zone from two yards out to make it 21-3. Then, following another Broncbuster punt, Iowa Western (6-1) drove 80 yards in five plays, with Sargent rumbling 46 yards on third-and-1 to extend the possession. Two plays later, and with the threat of the running game looming, Locksley used a play-action fake to suck in the defense before lofting a perfect spiral to a wide-open Tahj Telfair for a 23-yard touchdown that pushed the lead to 28-3 with 7:20 to go in the half.
"They (Iowa Western) did everything right," Sims said. "I didn't even yell at our guys in the locker room. I just was honest with them."
The Reivers appeared to be on their way to a fifth touchdown the next time they had the ball. On third-and-7 from their own 43, Locksley hit Hill on a slant. The freshman, who was a three-sport star in high school in South Carolina, found a crease in the secondary and began racing towards the end zone. But Garden City defensive back Andreus Price wrapped him up from behind and punched the ball loose. Warren Saba recovered, diverting disaster for the moment.
"These guys have to understand that you have to be fully committed to what we are doing for 60 minutes," Sims explained. "And we are not there yet."
The turnover seemed to rejuvenate Garden City, and freshman running back Alaric Williams turned Broncbuster Stadium into a temporary inferno with a 58-yard touchdown run on third-and-1. Moments later, Rayvon Bartlett, who made his first collegiate start in place of Terry Wilson at quarterback, ran in the two-point conversion, cutting the Iowa Western lead to 28-11 with 3:11 remaining until halftime.
"I thought Alaric played well," Sims said. "But everyone needs to play like that."
Not deterred by the turnover, the Reivers put themselves in position to extend the lead going into the break. A nine-play drive covered 46 yards, but on second-and-8 from the Garden City 36, Locksley made his only mistake of the afternoon, forcing a pass down the left sideline to Telfair that Saba diagnosed and intercepted in the end zone.
"We had some momentum going into halftime," Sims said. "We just didn't capitalize on it."
Garden City inched closer early in the third when James White added his second field goal of the day: a 30 yarder that pulled the Broncbusters to within 28-14 with 9:31 to go in the period.
But if there was any hope of a comeback, Iowa Western put those to bed on their next possession.
On third-and-2 from their own 33, Chauncey Manac stuffed Sargent for no gain. After a delay-of-game penalty made it fourth-and-6, Reivers' coach Scott Strohmeier sent out kicker Hunter Pinegar to punt the ball away, or so everyone thought.
Instead Pinegar took the snap, and rolled a couple of steps to his right before sprinting down the sideline for a 23-yard gain to extend the drive.
"In all honestly, that play was asking a lot from our guys," Sims said. "We saw on film that they had ran that same play against Dodge City. But in this case, we didn't fit into our gaps properly."
Garden City's defense had another chance to get off the field on third-and-9. But Locksley shook off linebacker Dillon Williams before strolling for 15 yards and a first down.
"Dillon played his heart out," Sims said. "But that play illustrated exactly why Iowa Western is the best team in the country."
While Locksley opened the coffin, Sargent put the nail in it, carrying the ball four times after that critical third-down conversion, the last eight, he shed three tackles en route to the end zone and a 35-14 advantage with 4:46 to go in the third.
Unfortunately for the Broncbusters, Sargent was not quite finished.
With less than seven minutes to go, Sargent put a stamp on his career day, taking a handoff from Locksley, and bursting untouched up the middle for an 80-yard touchdown.
"He (Sargent) is the best running back we have seen all year," Sims said.
And his final stat line-videogame like: 31 carries for 370 yards and three touchdowns.
Meantime the Broncbusters had problems moving the ball all afternoon. They totaled 276 yards and were held to three-and-outs on six of their 13 possessions. Minus the Williams scoring run in the first half, Garden City was outgained 377 to 96 over the first 30 minutes with just five first downs.
"We were thoroughly beaten," Sims said. "But we still have three games with teams that we have better records than. The season isn't over."
Bartlett was just 8-of-19, for 51 yards for the Broncbusters, who suffered their worst loss since Oct. 10, 2015-a 49-14 defeat to Hutchinson. Williams hit the century mark on the ground, totaling 143 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. It was the third 100-yard rusher allowed by the Reviers defense. Daniel Davis, the conference's leading receiver, was held to just 11 yards on three catches.
Locksley was 14-of-26, for 185 yards, two touchdowns and interception for Iowa Western, who will likely move to No. 1 this week after East Mississippi lost to Northwest Mississippi on Thursday. Hill caught six balls for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Next up: Garden City at Dodge City-Saturday, Oct. 21-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westenrkansanews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app