By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Adam Shrimplin
Fort Dodge, IA-During the first quarter of Saturday's game, Garden City Coach Tom Minnick popped more blood-pressure pills than he had the entire season. But as any wise person will tell you, it's not how you start; it's how you finish.
And boy did Minnicks' team do just that.
Ramon Jefferson tallied a season-high 200 yards on the ground, Jadon Hayes added his fifth rushing touchdown in the past two weeks, and the 12th-ranked Broncbusters scored the game's final 30 points in a 43-27 rout of Iowa Central at Dodger Stadium.
"We have to find a way to get off to a better start," Minnick said afterwards with a big smile. "But these guys responded again."
The first quarter though is one that the veteran head man would love to forget. On Iowa Central's opening possession, the Tritons marched right through Garden City's defense. Backup quarterback Arthur Brantley, who entered after starter DJ Irons was pulled following just one play, ripped off a 46-yard run on second-and-10. Two plays later, Brantley lobbed a pass to Tanarious Achan, who was wide open in the end zone after a mix up on the back end between Avery Thornton and DJ McCullough.
"We had a lot of breakdowns early in the game," Minnick said. "We made plenty of mistakes."
Those miscues were compounded by a struggling offense. On the Broncbusters' first possession, they marched 59 yards in 11 plays. But on third-and-3, tight end Maleak Bryant dropped what would have been a sure touchdown. Instead, they settled for a 22-yard field goal by Andres Dos Santos Aires.
"We have to finish those early drives," Minnick said. "We should have had seven there."
To add insult to injury, the Broncbusters had no answer on defense. The next time Iowa Central had the ball, the Tritons drove 62 yards in nine plays, aided by a controversial pass interference call on Garden City safety Anthony Jordan on third-and-12 from the 16 that gave Iowa Central a free first down. Moments later, Brantley threw a perfect, 10-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Witty, who beat Thornton on a slant to make it 14-3 with 4:13 left in the first.
"We've been down this road before," Minnick said. "At some point, we just needed to get a stop."
Garden City quickly responded when McCullough took the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown to slice the deficit to four. But the celebration was short lived when Brantley threw his third touchdown pass of the first half, hooking up with Witty for an electrifying 88-yard score that had the Tritons up 21-10 less than a minute into the second period.
"That was another breakdown," Minnick said. "We killed ourselves more than anything."
Garden City appeared to right the ship on their next drive. Mike Orthmann's unit held the ball for nearly 10 minutes, converting three third downs and one fourth down when Troyvon Johnson made a beautiful over-the-shoulder grab at the Tritons' 23. But the Broncbusters' touchdown chances eroded once Kevaughn Dingle, who transferred to Garden City from Iowa Central, dropped a third-down pass at the 8. Instead, Dos Antos Aires was summoned again, this time for a 37-yard field goal that cut the Tritons lead to 21-13.
Iowa Central made them pay just a few minutes later.
Setup with a short field following Kurt Taylor's 20-yard kickoff return, Garden City's defense was burned again. On first-and-10 from the Broncbuster 43, Brantley found Achan, who weaved his way 43 yards for a touchdown. A missed extra point only dampened the celebration, as the Tritons had a two-touchdown lead with 3:13 to play in the half.
"We needed something to spark us," Minnick said. "We knew we weren't out of the game. It was still early. It was just a matter of getting things together."
All they needed was one play to flip the script. And Jefferson provided it.
With his offense in desperate need of a jolt, the sophomore transfer from the University of Maine, left half of the Iowa Central defense in his wake; ripping off a sensational 64-yard run on the first play of Garden City's next series. Two plays later, Hayes blasted in from three yards out, pulling the Broncbusters to within seven.
Then the fireworks really started.
After Garden City's defense forced a three-and-out, Iowa Central gifted the Broncbusters two points when a fourth-down snap sailed over punter, Jacob Tokheim's head and went out of the back of the end zone. Then, after the free kick, Cox used a gorgeous shoulder fake to completely fool Altrell Durr, lofting a perfect spiral to MJ Link , who sprinted 55 yards to the end zone for the go-ahead score.
"Our special teams is what kept us in this game," Minnick said. "They allowed us to get into a rhythm. And when that happened, we took off."
Incredibly, despite giving up 300 total yards and four touchdown passes in the first half, Garden City had come back from a two-touchdown hole to grab a 29-27 halftime advantage.
That momentum kept rolling into the third.
Jefferson's 46-yard touchdown run on the Broncbusters first possession of the second half, polished off a five-play, 66-yard drive that gave the road team a 36-27 cushion. Meantime, the defense was starting to click, forcing the Tritons into a second straight three-and-out. Later in the period, Sam Moala ended another Iowa Central march when he picked off Brantley and returned it near midfield. Then in the fourth, it was the front seven making a play when Taishaun Holmes devoured Brantley for his first sack of the season.
"Jerry (Dominguez) made some really nice adjustments in this game," Minnick mentioned. "And that's what it really came down to."
After a blazing start, Iowa Central was basically held in check for the final 33 minutes of the game. At the same time, Garden City was putting a stranglehold on things, salting the contest away when Cox used a perfect fake on a zone-option-read to stroll 12 yards, untouched to the end zone, putting the Broncbusters on top 43-27 with 6:20 left.
"This was a big win for us," Minnick said. "Considering we were without a lot of key guys, this was big."
Iowa Central made one last ditch effort to get back in the game. Irons, who came back in after Brantley sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter, moved the Tritons to the Garden City 23. But on first down, he overthrew Witty at the goal line and was intercepted by Adrian Hopper. Ball game over.
"We didn't play great; that's for sure," Minnick said. "The bye week comes at a perfect time."
Jefferson carried the ball 19 times for 200 yards for Garden City, who won their 12th straight true road game. Hayes finished with 20 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown, and Link caught three balls for 85 and a score. The Broncbusters totaled 481 yards of offense and held the ball for nearly 35 minutes.
Brantley finished the day 12-of-18 for 213 yards, four touchdowns and an interception for Iowa Central, who lost their third straight game after starting the season 3-1. Taylor, the Michigan transfer, toted the ball 18 times for 72.
Next up: Garden City at Highland, Saturday, Oct. 22-12:30 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app