By Mike Pilosof
Independence, KS-When season four, episode three of Netflix's acclaimed series Last Chance U is released next July, all anyone will remember is what happened once the final whistle sounded. But in all reality, that was just the appetizer. The main course was a lot more spicy.
Charles West and Dedrick Mills combined for 267 yards on the ground while the defense pitched a second-half shutout as the seventh-ranked Broncbusters stormed back from a 21-3 deficit to beat No. 13 Independence 28-21 Saturday night at Shulthis Stadium. After the game, Pirates' coach Jason Brown had to be restrained while going after Jeff Sims.
"There's no game that shows our players' work ethic more than this game," Sims said afterwards. "Our guys didn't play a quarter; they didn't play a half; they played every single play."
In the same setting last season, Garden City (3-0, 2-0) struck first, thanks to a plethora of Independence (1-2, 1-2) mistakes. A year later, the tables and the script flipped.
Florida State-transfer Malik Henry, who was considered the second-best quarterback coming out of high school in the 2016 class, surprised everyone when he trotted out for the Pirates' first series. He then reminded all in attendance of why he was rated so high, unleashing a bomb down the right sideline that Markiese King snatched out of the air for a 69-yard touchdown on the first play of the game.
"We've been spooked the last two times we've come here," Sims said. "Independence is good, and they've got a lot of talent."
After the Broncbusters went three-and-out, the Pirates struck again. On third-and-11 from their own 12, Otumous Payemanu delivered what could have been an early knockout blow. The sophomore broke containment and jetted 88 yards for a touchdown, giving Independence a 14-0 edge four minutes into the contest.
"It took us a while to buy into what we were doing," Sims admitted.
On its heels after a Labrentae Davis false start that short circuited Garden City's next drive, the Pirates quickly marched from their own 10 to the Broncbuster 42. It was do or time now.
"We won this game weeks ago," Sims said. "Our preparation and how hard these guys worked, is what won us this game."
With their defense needing a stop, Dillon Williams and Jabbar Price surged through the Pirates' line and dropped Georgia-Tech transfer Jay Jones for a 10 yard loss on third-and-7. That one play seemed to ignite a fire, that finally got John Powers' offense going.
What ensued was a 13-play, 78-yard drive that resulted in a Ben Rayborn's 23-yard field goal that cut Independence's lead to 14-3 early in the second.
But before the Broncbusters could completely get off the canvas, the Pirates struck again. King's electrifying 88-yard kickoff return set them up at the Garden City 10. Two plays later, Payemanu powered into the end zone from seven yards out, giving the home squad a commanding 21-3 advantage with 10:41 to play in the half.
"At that point, I begged our guys to believe in what we were doing," Sims said.
What transpired over the final 40:41, will be talked about for some time. It wasn't just the comeback, it was the way it happened. Josh Hager's defense stood toe-to-toe with the so-called Dream U while the offense took it to another level. In the end, Garden City polished off the biggest comeback victory of the Sim's era.
Down 18 points, Mills and West imposed their will. The duo took turns delivering haymakers, finishing off a nine-play, 75-yard march that quarterback David Moore punctuated with a one-yard touchdown run to make it 21-10.
After Kyshonn Tyson and Heston Lameta combined to sack Jones on third down on the Pirates next drive, Garden City drove 80 yards in 10 plays, highlighted by Moore's absolute dime to Keyshawn Jones, who plucked the ball from the heavens while being harassed by two Pirate defenders for a gain of 31 yards on third-and-8. Later in the drive, Moore connected with Dominick Watt for a 14-yard gain before Mills' three-yard rushing touchdown cut the deficit to five. The Georgia-Tech transfer, whose season ended last year when he broke his collarbone at Highland, added the two-point conversion, and the Broncusters trailed 21-18 at the half.
"How about what Dedrick and Charles did tonight," Sims said. "That's the story. How about our offensive line. These guys worked their tails off, and I'm so happy for them."
The Broncbusters, once left for dead, appeared rejuvenated coming out of the locker room. And West provided an extra injection of momentum.
The redshirt sophomore took the opening kickoff of the third quarter, juked two defenders and was off to the races. His destination: the Pirates' end zone-a 91-yard return for a touchdown that completely erased an 18-point deficit and gave Garden City a 25-21 lead 12 seconds into the second half.
"We were getting beat because we were hesitating early in this game," Sims said. "You can't hesitate against Independence. They're too athletic; they're too good."
You know what else was good? How about the Broncbuster defense, who, after giving up 179 yards in the first quarter, limited the Pirates to 113 over the final three periods. They also produced three sacks, bringing their season total to 10.
"There were cameras everywhere," Sims said. "I think that caused us to pause a little bit. But when fell down 21-3, I told our coaches that it's hard to coach a team when you're up 18 points. Now, they're not necessarily going as hard."
Rayborn added his second field goal of the night: a 23-yarder with 7:53 to play that pushed Garden City's lead to seven.
Once Independence failed on a fourth down deep in their own end, the Broncbusters had a chance to put the game away. But Rayborn missed a 27-yard field goal, giving the Pirates new life with 2:14 to go.
Independence proceeded to move the ball from their own 20 to the 41. On fourth-and-3, Henry found Payemanu for a 15-yard gain down the right sideline. But the play of the game may have been an accident.
On second-and 10 from the Pirates 44, Payemanu got free up the middle. But thanks to Edwin Lopez's foot, the sophomore back stumbled, and instead of a long touchdown run, Independence was limited to a seven-yard gain. Eventually, they were starting at a fourth-and-3 at the Garden City 37. Henry dropped back, rolled to his right, and fired an errant pass over the middle, squashing the Pirates' comeback attempt, while completely eliminating them from National Championship contention.
Moore, making his first start at quarterback for Garden City, was 10-of-17 for 112 yards. West notched his fifth career 100-yard rushing game, totaling 142 on 26 carries, and Mills added 22 totes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Brian Boyd caught a team-best five balls for 37.
Henry was 5-of-14 for 103 yards and a touchdown for the Pirates, who lost their second straight game. Payemanu rushed for 106 yards on seven carries, becoming just the fifth 100-yard rusher against the Broncbuster defense in the last 27 games.
Notes: Sims notched his 70th career victory…Garden City held the ball for 35:38 and ran 17 more plays (75-38)…The Broncbusters have won 12 out of their last 13 games on the road…The Broncbusters scored 25 unanswered points to close the game…