Highland rallies to top Busters; playoff hopes dimmed
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
Frustrations boiled over on Saturday night for the Garden City Community College football team after dropping a 20-17 heartbreaker to Highland at Buffalo Stadium.
Sophomore Jake Curran — making his second start of the season — committed his only big mistake of the night, missing a wide open Tyreek Hill streaking down the middle of the field for what could have been an easy touchdown and the lead with less than a minute to go in the game. Instead, Curran was hit as he threw and the ball was picked off by Highland's Contereze Pierce.
Two kneeldowns later, and the Scotties were celebrating the conference win with big playoff implications. Five minutes later, the frustration of two-straight losses at home exploded as dozens of Scotties and Busters squared off just outside the field of play as the two teams headed to their respective locker rooms. Several players had heated exchanges before coaches and other players dispersed the mass.
No apparent punches were thrown, but the cause was apparent. The Busters (2-3, 4-3) had had enough of falling just short in big games by letting opportunities slip by.
Against the Scotties (4-2, 5-3), the missed potential touchdown connection between Curran and Hill to win the game was just one of several opportunities the Busters were not able to convert. Three times a Buster defender had sure interceptions go through his hands. One of which came right before halftime in Scottie territory, which the Busters could have used to cut the 14-3 halftime deficit to 14-6 or 14-10.
But to head coach Matt Miller, those missed turnovers were not at fault for the loss.
"When plays are there, we've got to make them, but I cannot sit here and say a single negative word about our defense," the first-year coach said about a defense that held the Scotties to just 335 total yards.
In fact, it was the defense that gave the Busters their only lead of the game, as freshman Wonderful Terry — who dropped two other potential interceptions — picked off Highland's Brandon Bergeron in the third quarter after the Busters had cut the lead to 14-10 and returned it 30 yards for the score and a 17-14 lead.
Instead, it was another ineffective night from a Buster offense that had been anemic in the last two weeks for Miller to make a switch at QB, going to Curran instead of the starter to begin the year, Akeem Jones.
"If we just execute the offense we put out there, we go up and down the field, but penalties, dropped passes, missed routes, protection at times, (were a big problem)," Miller said. "I thought Jake Curran came in for his first start in decent weather and did some good things.
"This game did not fall on Jake Curran. Believe me, Jake Curran gave us an opportunity to win the football game."
Curran accounted for 272 of the Busters' 307 yards of offense, going 22-of-39 passing for 206 yards and rushing the ball 12 times for 66 yards. However, the Busters were penalized 13 times for 110 yards and had three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception.
"It's tough," the sophomore quarterback and Garden City native Curran said. "I mean, we were there. It's just the little things kill us all the time. It's just frustrating that we're always so close, yet so far away."
In the Busters' three losses this season, the Busters have committed 44 penalties for 342 yards.
The Busters' last drive of the first quarter was slowed by two penalties, and eventually stopped by running back Farres James' fumble inside Scottie territory. In the second quarter, a 21-yard pass completion from Curran to receiver Nile Daniel was wiped out by a holding call. The Busters punted the ball three plays later.
The Scotties took advantage of the Busters' mistakes.
Highland's sophomore free safety Pat Martin returned a Brandon Snell fumble 29 yards for the opening score of the game.
Then, after a Buster drive stalled by a holding penalty gave Highland the ball at midfield, the Scotties drove down for another touchdown to extend their lead to 14-3 on sophomore running back Brandon Peters' 13-yard scamper.
However, the Busters fought back and were able to take a lead in the third quarter. First, Curran led a 10-play, 78-yard drive, culminating in Curran's 1-yard sneak up the middle to make it 14-10. Terry's pick-6 on the next play from scrimmage gave the Busters the lead.
But even then, the Busters could not get out of their own way. Sophomore left tackle Dontavious Blair was flagged for a personal foul after the PAT — the 15-yard penalty was marked off on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Scotties good field position, which they turned into a 38-yard field goal to tie it at 17.
Two empty Buster drives later, the Scotties broke the tie on a 27-yard field goal with nine minutes left to play.
Two possessions later, the Busters had the ball at their own 27 with 2:30 to play. The Busters gained 26 yards on four plays before Curran threw the fatal interception.
"I was trying to hit Tyreek down the middle and I got hit right when I threw it," Curran said. "It just didn't happen the way we wanted it to."
His coach was visibly frustrated after the game.
"I don't know how you react," Miller said about the tough loss. "You're extremely disappointed. You feel awful. You feel awful."
The loss stings that much more with the realization that the Busters are now tied for fifth in the Jayhawk Conference, a game and a half behind Highland, two games behind Butler and Hutchinson at 4-1 in the Jayhawk, and two and a half games behind first-place and 5-1 Dodge City, whom the Busters face this week.
"I have no idea," Miller said about his team's playoff chances. "All I know is, all we can do is focus on this next game and beat Dodge City."
The Conquistadors will host the Busters at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Dodge's Memorial Stadium.
Highland 7 7 3 3 -- 20
Garden City 0 3 14 0 -- 17
High--Martin 29 fumble return (Josh Pasley kick)
GC--Tyler Peterson 28 field goal
High--Peters 13 run (Pasley kick)
GC--Curran 1 run (Peterson kick)
GC--Terry 30 interception return (Peterson kick)
High--Pasley 38 field goal
High--Pasley 27 field goal
HCC GCCC First downs 24 20
Rushes-yards 45-146 31-101
Passing yards 189 206
Passes 20-39-1 22-39-1
Fumbles-lost 0-0 5-2
Penalties-yards 7-65 13-110
Punts-yards 7-38.3 8-41.8
Rushing--GCCC: Curran 12-66; Tyreek Hill 11-34; Michael Gerst 2-8; Brady Bean 2-7; Snell 1-(-3); Farres James 1-(-4). HCC: Peters 27-117; Marlon Mitchell 8-28; Bergeron 8-3.
Passing--GCCC: Curran 22-39-0-1--206. HCC: Bergeron 20-39-0-1--189
Receiving--GCCC: Snell 10-91; Monterio Burchfield 5-54; Daniel 4-40; Hill 2-20; Gerst 1-1. HCC: Melvin McAdams 6-59; Durwin Jones 4-49; Peters 4-38; Austin Moses 1-34; Mitchell 1-6; Brennan Boland 1-5; Daemon Franklin 1-0; Desmond McGee 2-(-2).