By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-Growing up in Brazil, Andre Dos Santos Aires' dream was to play college football in the United States. But he couldn't get anyone to give him a scholarship. Instead he played soccer at a Junior College in Iowa. Then, after last season, he gave it one more shot, hoping a team would bite. Garden City did, and the rest is history.
Kicking into a stiff 30 mph win, the freshman delivered in the final seconds, booting through a go-ahead 39-yard field goal, that just squeezed inside the left upright, as No. 5 Garden City toppled No. 4 Hutchinson 20-19 in a game for the ages Saturday afternoon at Broncbuster Stadium. It was the brown and gold's first win over the Blue Dragons at home since 2007.
"I didn't hear anything when I kicked it," said Dos Santos Aires, who missed two earlier field goals. "All I was thinking is make sure the ball went through."
That kick capped off a wild day, one where Garden City held one of the most potent offenses in the nation to a season-low 175 total yards.
"This is all about these guys, they did this," Minnick said afterwards. "I love playing in these types of games."
This game was definitely a flashback with two power defenses throwing one haymaker after the other. After Hutchinson fumbled the opening kickoff, the Broncbusters drove to the Blue Dragons 16. But Nate Cox threw an incomplete pass; then was sacked by Lewis Wallace on third down. On fourth-and-19, Dos Santos Aires was summoned, but he pushed a 47-yard field goal wide left, keeping the game scoreless.
"We were our own worst enemy today," Minnick said. "We've done that a lot this season."
As inconsistent as the Broncbusters were offensively, their defense played out of their minds. Hutchinson was held without a first down for the first 18 minutes of the game. Their only saving grace was a blocked punt by Jonathan White that was returned for a touchdown that put the Blue Dragons up 6-0 with 8:30 to play in the first (Ali Gaye blocked the extra point).
Other than that, Hutchinson's offense was stuck in mud for most of the first half. The problem though, Garden City couldn't take advantage. One drive ended when Dos Santos Aires misfired on a 38-yard field goal, while another promising march, which reached the 1-yard line early in the second, was derailed quickly when the Broncbusters lost 15 yards in three plays. But this time Dos Santos Aires salvaged it with a 32-yard field goal that sliced Hutchinson's lead to 6-3 with 13:00 to play in the half.
"I've been a part of a lot of these types of games," Minnick said. "Especially in the National Championship a couple of years ago where we lost. It's nice to be on the winning end for once."
Trailing by three, Garden City was gifted a scoring opportunity when Ellsworth-transfer Mark Wright overthrew his intended target down the left sideline and DJ McCullough intercepted it. After juking and weaving his way for 49 yards, Garden City turned the takeaway into points when Jadon Hayes bounced wide right to the outside and sprinted 17 yards to pay dirt, putting the Broncbusters up 10-6 with 11:31 remaining in the second.
"We feel like we can play with anyone," Minnick said. "It just comes down to executing. There were times today we did, and times when we didn't. But they have a really good defense."
Hutchinson didn't make anything easy for Minnick's bunch all day. And following a 14-yard punt by Matthan Hatchie late in the half, the Blue Dragons drove 40 yards in six plays, regaining the lead when Erin Collins, who missed most of last year with an injury, walked into the end zone from two yards out to put Hutchinson up 13-10 at the break.
"We would be fine if we blocked anyone," a visibly frustrated Minnick said on the way to the locker room. "Our offensive line didn't block anyone."
Hutchinson's stout defensive front, made running the ball an adventure. But following Wright's second interception of the day early in the final period where Chris Smith returned another overthrown ball 30 yards deep into Blue Dragons' territory, Ramon Jefferson finally broke loose, rumbling 18 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, giving Garden City a 17-13 cushion with 12:42 left.
"There were a lot of things that shouldn't have happened in this game," Minnick explained. "But we survived."
Unfortunately, the lead didn't stick, thanks to a tenacious Hutchinson defense that won the field-position battle for most of the game. Then, with less than five minutes to go in the fourth, Markies Colvin returned Hatchie's short punt 18 yards to the Broncbuster 30. On the following play, Wright gashed Garden City for 15. Moments later, it was Tiyon Evans strolling into the end zone, giving the Blue Dragons the lead again 19-17 with 4:04 on the clock. But Garden City blocked the extra point, keeping it a two-point contest.
"It's nice to finally see some breaks go our way," Minnick said with a smile.
The Broncbusters' title hopes though appeared to go up in smoke once they went three-and-out on their next possession. Hutchinson then had a chance to put the game away, moving the ball down to the Garden City 16. But instead of kicking a field goal, Rion Rhoades left his offense on the field, and the play call was a peculiar one at best: a quarterback dive that was shutdown for no gain, giving the home team the ball back with no timeouts.
"We had confidence if we could get in range," Minnick said.
And boy did Garden City dodge a few bullets on their season-saving drive. On second-and-10 from their own 41, Cox threw across his body and hit safety Kaytron Allen right in the chest. But the sophomore dropped the ball, giving the Broncbusters another chance. Two plays after that, Cox fired a pass to tight end Bryce Parker, who made the catch; then was leveled by Allen and fumbled the ball. The sophomore covered it up, but the umpire ruled it incomplete. A conference ensued.
"These games are nerve wracking for sure," Minnick said. "But this is what you play for."
After a two-minute discussion, the officials ruled that Parker made the catch and fumbled the ball, giving Garden City a first down. But that wasn't the craziest play of the drive. That happened four plays later, when on fourth-and-10, Cox threw a strike to MJ Link, who made an all-out lunge to haul it in. After a spiked ball and a one-yard gain, the game was in Dos Santos Aires' hands. And Minnick never hesitated.
"We knew he could kick it from that distance," Minnick. "But to be able to bounce back after missing two kicks earlier, that says a lot."
With the ball on the right hash and the wind swirling in his face, the freshman kicker drove it as far to the right as he could. That gave it plenty of wiggle room as is it drifted back left before dropping a mere foot over the crossbar, turning Broncbuster Stadium into an inferno.
"I didn't have any doubts," Dos Santos Aires said. "I had all the confidence."
Trailing by one, Hutchinson had one last chance on the ensuing kickoff. But Colvin finally ran out of real estate down the right sideline, preserving another heart-stopping win for Garden City in this series.
After throwing for 302 yards vs. Coffeyville, Cox struggled for most of the day. He finished 11-of-32 for 123 yards and one interception. Jefferson carried the ball 20 times for 66 and a score, while Hayes added 18 totes for 41 and a touchdown. Parker reeled in three balls for 52 yards.
Wright was just 4-of-13 passing for 27 yards and two picks for Hutchinson, who averaged just 3.6 yards per play. Collins ran it 16 times for 58, and Evans added 69 on the ground.
Next up: Garden City at Butler, Saturday, Nov. 9-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app