By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Over the last three years, no team in the Jayhawk Conference has given Garden City more fits than Highland.
Despite that, Jeff Sims' had never lost to the Scotties. And even though that record remained unblemished after Saturday, Highland produced the type of physical football that wears most teams out. But as Aaron Arnold learned, this Broncbuster squad is not most teams.
Charles West ran for 177 yards and a touchdown, Dedrick Mills rushed 22 times for 90 and two scores, and No. 2 Garden City beat the Scotties in a shootout, 51-31 Saturday afternoon at Broncbuster Stadium.
"That's the best Highland team I've ever seen," Sims said. "They are so well coached, and play so hard."
That was evident all afternoon as the Broncbusters struggled to pull away. But one play in the fourth quarter finally put to rest Highland's upset bid.
Leading 44-31 with 6:05 to play, the Scotties were in position to score again. But Joe Jay Smith blindsided Highland (4-3, 2-3) quarterback Avery McCall, popping the ball up into the air. Linebacker Heston Lameta scooped it up before having it punched free near midfield. With the ball on the ground, Kyshonn Tyson was the beneficiary of a fortuitous bounce, and he raced all the way to the 3-yard line.
"We just needed to focus," Smith said after the game. "We ran that same play before, and we just kept putting pressure on the quarterback."
Smith's pulverizing hit changed the game, and it eventually setup Ellis Merriweather's three-yard rushing touchdown that put Garden City up 51-31 with 6:00 remaining.
"These guys have bought in," Smith said. "All of us believe, and that's a big difference from a year ago."
That Garden City defense limited the Scotties to just seven points over the final 30 minutes. But the first half was another story.
After Garden City (7-0, 4-0) took a 6-0 edge following David Moore's one-yard rushing touchdown on fourth down, the Scotties answered right back. Arnold's team marched 51 yards in 12 plays to reach the Garden City 36. Once the drive stalled, the coaching staff summoned Ryan Schemtob, who drilled a 53-yard field goal that sliced Garden City's lead in half.
"For us, we have to be good every week," Sims said. "If we lose one or two games, this season would be a disappointment."
Highland kept putting the pressure on, and early in the second quarter, Kevin Brown ripped off a 73-yard touchdown run that put the Scotties up 10-6.
"In the first half, we had guys trying to do too much," Sims explained. "That's why we were missing tackles."
The Broncbusters weren't down for long. The next time they touched the ball, Garden City moved 75 yards in 10 plays. On second-and-10 from the Highland 21, Moore floated a pass down the right sideline for Dominick Watt that was incomplete. But defensive back Brian George was flagged for pass interference. Two plays later, Mills powered in from two yards out, giving Garden City the lead back 13-10 with 10:44 left until halftime.
"We got a little tight when things got close," Sims said. "This was a very physical football game."
Once Andreus Price returned a punt 56 yards for a touchdown that put Garden City up 21-10, it appeared the Broncbusters were on their way to another blowout win. But Arnold never let that happen.
Damarion Williams 30-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, set the Scotties up near midfield. Six plays after that, they were back in the end zone on the heels of McCall's seven-yard run where he carried two Broncbusters across the goal line to make it 21-17.
Highland had another chance to take the lead back once Garden City went three-and-out. But after Brown's 34-yard run put the Scotties in the red zone, the Broncbuster defense stiffened. On fourth down, Schemtob's 32-yard field goal bounced off the right upright, preserving the Broncbusters four-point cushion.
"We have to continue to move forward," Sims said. "We have to keep these guys out of their comfort zone."
That missed field goal gave Garden City new life, and Moore took full advantage firing a 40-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn Jones that gave the home team a 28-17 halftime edge.
That momentum definitely didn't carry over into the third.
On the second play of the second half, Reco Hannah stripped Mills of the football. Williams gobbled it up and sprinted 25 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. On Garden City's next possession, Labrentae Davis, who was filling in for injured center Howard Watkins, sent a snap off the right shoulder pad of Moore, and Andrew Kerobo recovered for Highland. This time though, the Scotties failed to take advantage, and Schemtob missed his second field goal of the day.
"We got in our own way again," Sims said. "We didn't play very well, and we still scored 51 points."
That little sliver of hope Highland had to take control of the game dissipated, and four plays later, West galloped 59-yards for a backbreaking touchdown that gave Garden City a 35-24 lead with 8:56 to play in the quarter.
The Scotties still did not go quietly.
Facing a third-and-26 from their own 5, Brown got the edge, sprinting 40 yards for a first down. On the next snap, McCall hit Tre Parker in stride up the right sideline for a 55-yard touchdown that had the Scotties within four again, 35-31.
"When I say that's the most talented Highland team I've played, I mean it sincerely," Sims said. "You're never going to blow that team out."
Highland never reached the end zone again, thanks to a slight adjustment made by defensive coordinator Josh Hager at halftime.
"It's very important for our defense to bring enthusiasm and energy," Smith said. "We didn't do that in the first half."
Mills added a one-yard touchdown run, and Ben Raybon connected on a 33-yard field goal to give Sims' team a 13-point fourth-quarter advantage.
Moore was efficient, completing 8-of-10 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown for Garden City, who beat the Scotties for a fifth straight time. Jahod Booker caught three balls for 30 yards, and Jones had two catches for 68 and a touchdown.
McCall was just 10-of-31 for 151 yards and was sacked four times for Highland. Brown rushed 22 times for 211 yards, but was limited to just 57 in the second half.
Next up: Garden City at Coffeyville, Saturday, Oct. 27-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app