By JASON ELMQUIST
The Garden City High School football team needed to play their starters just three quarters to defeat Ulysses 30-6 in the season opener Friday at Memorial Stadium.
"I was proud of our defense tonight," GCHS coach Mike Smith said. "They gave us the ball all night and made some huge plays stopping them throughout the night."
The Buffs rode a potent passing game and a bend-but-don't-break defense to their victory. Junior quarterback Cody Bernbeck threw for 267 yards — again, amassing that in just three quarters of action — while completing 13 of his 22 pass attempts (59.1 percentage) while throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions.
"It felt great, but I have to give credit to the defense, though," Bernbeck said. "They played their tails off. It was just a great game for us to start off the season with."
The Garden City defense did the things both at the line and in the secondary to clamp down on the Tigers. Ulysses made just four pass attempts — two of which were intercepted — while its rushing attacked compiled just 122 yards on 44 attempts and fumbling the ball three times.
"Coach (Dominick) Dingle always says make them snap it again, because you never know what's going to happen," said senior free safety Andy Larkin, who had one of the interceptions. "That really showed tonight, because they would go on drives and have us against the wall and we'd just come up with a turnover. We were just very fortunate."
The two teams swapped turnovers in the opening minutes with Bernbeck throwing an interception two minutes into the game, followed by Ulysses' Josh Rodriguez losing a fumble two minutes later on Garden City's 21. Three plays later, Bernbeck connected with Angel Flores for a 79-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
"Without those guys up front, none of it could have been possible," Bernbeck said of his passing night. "The offensive line was doing a great job. We came in wanting to pass because Ulysses is just looking to put all those guys in the box to stop the run. So they were just giving us the pass and we took advantage of it."
Ulysses' very next drive was halted again in Garden City territory when Larkin picked off quarterback Bryce Moral at GCHS' 32.
"All the defensive coaches prepared us very well," Larkin said. "We had seen all those pass plays and everything, a million times. We knew the routes they were running, so we knew what they wanted to do with it. So we were very prepared in that aspect."
On the ensuing drive, Berbeck picked away at the Tigers defense, completing all three pass attempts on the drive, including a 42-yard pass to Tanner Parr and a 14-yard touchdown pass to Raul Silva.
The Garden City offense stalled deep in Ulysses' territory on its next drive and settled for a 25-yard field goal by Larry Gomez to go into the break with a 17-0 lead.
Ulysses failed to get much going out of halftime as they never reached the Garden City half of the field during the third quarter with the result of its drives being a punt, a lost fumble, a turnover on downs and another punt.
"I think the defense is what we need to talk about the most," Smith said. "I know (junior linebacker) Keith Curran made some big plays. That whole front group did and we were alternating a bunch of them. Braxston Medina and Asa Gottsponer, a couple of sophomore defensive backs, did real well. That secondary played pretty solid for the first time out."
The Buffs scored on two of their four drives in the third quarter — with one unsuccessful drive being halted by a lost fumble by Bernbeck at Ulysses' 33-yard line. But Bernbeck made up for it with a two-yard touchdown run and a 34-yard touchdown pass to senior defensive lineman Dominic Luna on a trick play with 40 seconds left in the third.
"I knew he could catch it. He has pretty soft hands for a big guy," Bernbeck said of Luna. "It was just a great play. I was wanting coach to call it, because I knew it would be open. He was just wide open on it and my eyes just lit up when I saw him."
While the Garden City offense racked up a total of 418 yards of offense, the defense held Ulysses to just 140 yards of total offense. The lone touchdown by Ulysses came with 6:02 left in the fourth quarter following a blocked punt deep in Garden City territory as Ulysses took the ball over at the Buffs' 15-yard line.
A seven-yard run by Rodriguez and a two-yard rush by Cory Ungles set up the six-yard touchdown run by Addison Nichols to prevent the shutout.
Garden City will return to action Friday with a home game against newly established Maize South at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m.
Garden City 30, Ulysses 6
Tigers 0 0 0 6 -- 6
Buffaloes 14 3 13 0 -- 30
GC — Angel Flores 79 pass from Cody Bernbeck (Larry Gomez kick), 7:20
GC — Raul Silva 14 pass from Bernbeck (Gomez kick), 1:37
GC — Gomez 25 kick, 6:55
GC — Bernbeck 2 run (Gomez kick), 6:19
GC — Dominic Luna 34 pass from Bernbeck (Gomez kick), :40.5
U — Addison Nichols 6 run (kick failed), 6:02
First Downs 8 20
Rushes-yards 44-122 41-151
Passing 18 267
Comp-Att-Int 1-4-2 13-22-2
Punts 5-32.8 2-28
Fumbles-lost 4-3 5-3
Penalties-yards 8-75 9-83
Rushing — Ulysses: Nichols 12-20, Ungles 13-54, Pauda 1-3, Rodriguez 4-46, Moral 6-(-2), Jarnagin 3-2, Langston 1-(-1); GCHS: Bernbeck 13-60, Lamb 4-3, Fowler 6-15, Graham 1-(-1), Myers 3-9, Flores 5-17, Richardson 2-(-1), Curran 2-14, Silva 2-2, Bailey 3-33.
Passing — Ulysses: Moral 1-3-1-18, Langston 0-1-1-0; GCHS: Bernbeck 13-22-2-267.
Receiving — Ulysses: Jarnagin 1-18; GCHS: Silva 4-55, Flores 1-79, Parr 3-72, Graham 2-20, Vasquez 1-10, Lamb 1-(-3), Luna 1-34.