Gardner edges Lansing with late TD
Lions fall in regionals for fourth straight year
It's a scene that's become all too familiar for the Lansing High football team - an opposing team dressed in blue and white celebrating a regional playoff victory.
In 2004 and 2005 it was Holton in Class 4A. Now Gardner-Edgerton is part of the club after the Trailblazers rallied for a late touchdown in a 21-14 victory over the Lions Friday night at Frank Graham Field.
"We're going to get through that someday," LHS coach Bill Pekarek lamented after the game. "I know we will. We'll get past that someday."
Lansing never has won a regional game the history of the program. Against Gardner, however, the victory was all but in hand before the 'Blazers snatched it away in the closing seconds. Senior quarterback Zach Carlton orchestrated a 15-play, 95-yard drive that began with 2:03.3 left in the game and ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Ross Ditch with 20.2 seconds remaining.
Carlton completed a pass to junior Bryan Rushing for the two-point conversion that set up the final margin of victory.
The Lions had one final shot, however. After two incomplete passes on the ensuing possession, senior quarterback Bobby Hauver launched a pass to senior receiver Stephen Didde who was sprinting down the sideline. Didde caught the ball in stride and took it into the endzone for a 52-yard score. A holding penalty brought it back, however, and Gardner's Bubba Starling picked off a pass to close the game.
The loss bounced Lansing from the Class 5A playoffs with a final record of 8-2. It's the fourth straight year the Lions have fallen in regionals. They were defeated last year by Turner, but this one certainly stung a whole lot more.
"You feel bad for your kids because they worked their tails off the whole freaking game," Pekarek said.
The mere fact that the game had so much drama at the end seems a bit surprising considering the way it began. Gardner took the opening drive 81 yards on 10 plays - nine of them rushing - and scored on a four-yard quarterback sneak by Carlton with 7:23 left in the first quarter. Starling's extra point made it 7-0.
Lansing countered on its first drive by going 73 yards on 11 plays with a mix of runs by Hauver and seniors Chris Hill and Brad Terron. Hauver hit Terron in the flat on a rollout, and Terron broke a tackle on his way to the endzone for a 19-yard score. Matt Robbins' extra point tied the game with 3:14 left in the first quarter.
Gardner was equally unstoppable on its second drive as it was the first. It blended two passes into an 11-play drive that covered 66 yards. A four-yard run up the middle by Carlton put the 'Blazers back on top, but the extra point missed and the lead was 13-7 with 10:34 left in the second quarter.
A 53-yard kickoff return by senior Kevin Johnson on the ensuing possession gave the Lions prime field position, and the capitalized by covering the last 36 yards in just three plays. The final 32 of those yards came when Johnson caught a screen pass from Hauver, spun out of a tackle and sprinted to the endzone. Robbins' kick put LHS ahead 14-13 with 8:48 left before intermission.
With the scoring out of the way, the defenses finished the first half with a flurry as each forced two punts before the break.
Gardner outgained Lansing 195-119 in total offense in the first half and held an 11-5 advantage in first downs, but LHS had the advantage on the scoreboard.
The Lions also got the ball first to start the third quarter, but that proved to be inconsequential as they fumbled the ball on the second play of the opening drive. No worries. The defense stepped up and made a fourth-down stop inside the red zone as Terron and linebacker David Dickson stuffed Nick Pierson for a loss.
Lansing had the ball back, but only for one play. Another fumble gave Gardner first down at the LHS 18-yard line. Again, no worries. The defense held firm as Justin Smith and Brendan Becker made tackles and Smith broke up a pass. Starling's 25-yard field goal attempt sailed wide and the Lions maintained the lead.
Neither team threatened to score again until the fourth quarter. Gardner marched 46 yards to the Lansing one-yard line, but the Lions smothered a series of Carlton sneaks. An illegal motion penalty eventually backed the 'Blazers to the five-yard line, and they came up empty-handed with another missed field goal.
The defensive stand put the ball back in the hands of the Lansing offense with 6:32 to go. The Lions used two big third-down conversions - a 20-yard pass from Hauver to Didde and a 51-yard bomb to Smith - to set up first and goal at the nine.
After runs of one and seven yards by Hill, Hauver was stuffed on a third-down quarterback sneak. Lansing called a bootleg right, and Hauver rolled out and leaped toward the endzone.
"I thought I got enough to get in and get the ball across the line," he said.
No signal was given, however, and the ball popped free. That put the ball in Gardner's - and specifically, Carlton's - hands with 2:03.3 remaining and set up the go-ahead score. Of the 15 plays on the drive, 13 were passes and six were completions.
"They knew our weakness was covering the flats, and they took advantage of it," Smith said. "I didn't think they'd drive all the way down there."
Despite the late touchdown, Pekarek said that wasn't where the game was lost.
"There's a lot of plays that make a difference in a game," he said.
Three fumbles didn't help. Neither did four penalties or the two sacks that were allowed. The most glaring area of weakness, however, was the running game. LHS mustered just 73 yards on 29 carries, and it had just 253 yards of offense after averaging more than 400 per game during the past four contests.
Hauver said the difficulty moving the ball - especially running it - was a tribute to Gardner's defense.
"They had a quick defense," he said. "They were tough up front, and they shut the option down real quick. Their defensive ends made it tough all night."
Lansing's primary successes were the passing game - Hauver completed 10 of 18 throws for 180 yards and a touchdown - and the all-around defensive effort. After allowing the two early scores, the Lions were in lock-down mode until the final drive when fatigue appeared to set in. Gardner ran 24 more plays than Lansing. Terron had a career-high 20 tackles, Smith had 17, Dickson had 10, Brendan Becker had eight and Ryan Hays made seven stops.
In the end, though, it wasn't enough. Gardner improved to 7-3 and advanced to play St. Thomas Aquinas in the state quarterfinals. Aquinas beat Bonner Springs, 44-14, and improved to 7-3. Bonner ended the year 8-2.