By Mike Pilosof
Photo by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-Here's a scary thought: the Broncbuster run game is starting to resemble the one that led the nation in 2018 and carried Garden City to the National Championship Game.
If you needed any further proof, Saturday provided it.
Jadon Hayes ran for 119 yards and a career-best four touchdowns, the Broncbusters forced two more turnovers and scored on special teams, and No. 14 Garden City blasted No. 18 Fort Scott 42-16 in the inaugural Old Timer's Bowl at Broncbuster Stadium.
"We've been running very well as of late," Head Coach Tom Minnick said after the game. "We didn't throw it great. But we got the win, and that's all that matters."
Garden City won the game despite throwing for only one yard. Instead, they relied on a ground attack that churned out 346 yards on 40 carries. They produced a pair of 100-yard rushers, punishing the Greyhounds' front seven.
"We've got four really good running backs; that's the key," Minnick explained. "Each one of them does something different."
But the game didn't start out according to plan. Garden City went three-and-out on their first possession, then watched former Broncbuster Rayvon Bartlett march Fort Scott 69 yards in five plays, capping it off with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Carlos Hill to put the visitors up 6-0 (Willie Hampton blocked the extra point).
"We've got to find a way to get off to better starts," Minnick said.
After throwing the ball three straight times on their opening possession, the Broncbusters changed course. And it only took them one play to answer the next time they had it. Ramon Jefferson's spectacular 71-yard stroll to the end zone, where he changed directions four different times, put Garden City on top for good, 7-6. It also exposed the Greyhounds biggest weakness: run defense. It was a unit that had allowed the 12th most rushing yards per game in the country entering Saturday's showdown.
"We've got big backs and small backs that come at you in different ways," Minnick said.
Early in the second period, Garden City took advantage of a short field, thanks to Fort Scott Coach Kale Pick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 41. Once they failed, the Broncbusters answered with a five-play, 41-yard drive that ended when Hayes powered into the end zone from seven yards out to make it 14-6.
"I finally feel like I'm 100 percent," said Hayes, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury since week two. "I felt really good, and the offensive line opened up a lot of holes."
Fort Scott may have been their own-worst enemy all day long. On their next possession, Bartlett connected with Hill for a 53-yard gain. Only DJ McCullough's touchdown saving tackle, kept the Greyhounds out of the end zone. On the very next play, Bartlett was picked off by Kenny White, thwarting the threat.
"Our defense made plays when they had to," Minnick sad. "We did a good job of imposing our will on them."
A few minutes later, Garden City converted that takeaway into points. Hayes ripped off back-to-back runs of 23 and 22. After Merriweather carried for 13, it was Hayes punctuating the drive with a one-yard plunge on third-and-goal, putting the brown and gold on top 21-6 with 8:26 remaining in the half.
"The offensive line blocked the first level, and I just ran hard," Hayes said. "There were a lot of arm tackles that I ran through."
The Greyhounds had another chance to score later in the period. They moved the ball from their own 38 to the Garden City 4. But on third down, Anthony White couldn't scoop up Bartlett's low throw in the end zone, forcing Fort Scott to settle for three.
"We kept them from scoring a couple of times in the red zone," Minnick said. "That was huge."
An even bigger play occurred with less than two minutes to go in the second. On third-and-6 from their own 26, Bartlett was flushed out of the pocked and stripped by Ryan McClain. Krishonn Merriweather recovered for Garden City, who scored on the very next play when Hayes sprinted 19 yards to the end zone, making 28-9 with 1:30 remaining.
"If we can run the ball and get takeaways, we can be pretty good," Minnick said.
In the third quarter, Garden City put their foot on the Greyhounds' throat, and in the process, Fort Scott completely fell apart.
Fort Scott mustered just one first down in the third quarter and was penalized 11 times for 97 yards. Meantime the Broncbusters extended their cushion early in the fourth when Hays found a crease and raced 18 yards to the house, giving Garden City a 35-9 advantage with 14:08 left.
"We've got a good team," Minnick said. "They just have to realize how good they are."
After surrendering 281 total yards in the first half, Jerry Dominguez's defense yielded just 111 over the final two quarters, giving up a late touchdown pass by backup Carlos Davis. Even special teams got into the scoring act when Willie Ervin blocked Johnny Kilgo's punt and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown. It was his second block and score in the past three games.
"They got some passes on us early in the game," Minnick said. "But we adjusted and shut that down. And they have one of the better receivers in the country."
The first-year coach was referring to John Jiles, who was targeted 18 times but caught just eight balls for 60 yards. Bartlett finished 23-of-46 for 274 yards, one touchdown and one interception for Fort Scott, who dropped their fourth straight game to Garden City. John Oliver had 14 carries for 79, and Hill caught six passes for 126 yards and two scores.
Cox was just 3-of-12 for one yard and a pick for the Broncbusters, who improved to 13-1 in their last 14 conference games. Jefferson carried 15 times for 162 yards and a touchdown, his second 100-yard rushing game of the season.
Next up: Garden City at Iowa Central-Saturday, Oct. 5-11:30 a.m. pregame; noon kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app