HUTCHINSON — For 60 minutes on Saturday at Gowans Stadium, the No. 2 Garden City Community College Broncbusters and No. 4 Hutchinson Blue Dragons competed in a slugfest that turned into an instant classic.
Each team delivered would-be knockout blows to any other team in the conference — and perhaps the nation — but against each other, this one was always going to go down to the last minute.
And that’s when the Busters delivered the final blow in a 14-play, 84-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds remaining for the dramatic 24-21 win.
“If you’ve would’ve told me this game it would’ve come down to being in a nickel package and we had to cover them,” Hutch head coach Rion Rhoades said, “I would’ve felt really good about it, but that wasn’t how it played out.”
It played out with the Busters (9-0, 6-0) winning at least a share of the conference title, and in the process denying Hutchinson (8-2, 6-1) the outright title, while also taking another step forward towards a potential NJCAA championship bid for the second time in three years.
“I was just tearing up a bit ago,” GCCC quarterback David Moore said. “That was the best feeling ever, especially the way we won.”
It was a Moore pass to Charles West for the game-winner.
“We had a post-corner concept with a flat route,” Moore said of the score. “Usually they (Dragons) press the point really hard, and that time they were off and I just figured I had the flat, and I wanted to give him a nice easy ball to get the catch.”
None of the rest of the game was easy.
The Dragons scored twice on long touchdowns — a 52-yard pass from Mason Schucker on the game’s opening series and a 97-yard run from Dezmon Jackson to open the second half. The Busters answered each time to make it 7-7 at half and then 14-14 near the end of the third, before a short Buster field goal gave Garden City its first lead entering the fourth quarter.
But Hutch took the lead right back on Jackson’s second rushing touchdown with 9:39 remaining. Jackson finished with 169 rushing yards, easily out-pacing the Busters’ two-headed running attack of West (116 yards) and Dedrick Mills (45 yards).
“I think if you look at what happened today, there was a lot of talk about the backs at Garden City, which they are very good players, but the best back on the field was 27 for Hutch today,” Rhoades said.
But West got the last laugh with the game-winning touchdown reception.
Hutch struck first on its opening drive with a pump-and-go touchdown pass from Mason Schucker to Jaylen Erwin for 52 yards. The Buster secondary seemed to have it bracketed, but two defenders ran into each other, allowing Erwin free run at the rainbow pass and score.
The Dragons converted a pair of third downs on the drive and capitalized for the early score.
It was all Hutchinson for the rest of the first quarter, as well, gaining eight first downs and denying the Busters even one.
But a Hutch drive into the Buster red zone stalled, with the Busters getting a tackle for loss on a first-down run, then forcing an incompletion followed by sacking Schucker for a big loss, taking Hutch outside of field goal range.
They punted, and the Busters took over.
But Garden City’s offense never got anything going, until the Buster defense made another big play, when Dillon Williams strip-sacked Schucker at the Hutch 39.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and Dillon is a big-time player” GCCC head coach Jeff Sims said.
The offense eventually capitalized, taking 11 plays to gain 39 yards — converting a pair of third downs — to tie it on Mills’ 4-yard burst up the middle.
To end the half, the Busters and Dragons exchanged long field goal misses, resulting in the 7-all score standing going into the break.
“I’m super disappointed in the opportunities we missed,” Rhoades said. “I thought we had a lot of good stuff for sure, but when you come up short on the scoreboard, obviously, you’re not worried about the plays you made; you’re worried about the plays you missed.”
Hutchinson led 21-17 after Garden City outscored HCC 10-7 in the third quarter.
It was the last lead of the game for the Blue Dragons after the go-ahead 18-yard touchdown run by Jackson.
Garden City forced a three-and-out. Hutchinson only managed just seven yards before punting the ball back to the Busters with 4:11 on the clock.
The ensuing drive by Garden City resulted in the coast-to-coast connection from Moore to West.
THE QUICK HIT
AIR ERWIN: The Blue Dragons featured wide receiver Jaylen Erwin early and often in the first half. He took the opening handoff 10 yards on the jet sweep. Erwin capped off the drive on a 52-yard touchdown reception from freshman quarterback Mason Schucker. He finished with 4 receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown.
BRONCBUSTING: Garden City displayed its ball-control offense on a pummeling 11-play drive that went for just 39 yards. The drive still found the end zone on a 4-yard touchdown run by Dedrick Mills. The drive took 5:40 off the clock.
TRICKERY: Hutchinson went deep into the playbook early in the first half. The Blue Dragons converted a fake punt on a direct snap to tight end Leroy Watson. The tight end bulldozed his way to a 6-yard gain on 4th-and-3. The Blue Dragons later called a wide receiver pass on the throw by Khalil McCain. The pass was broken up on the near completion.
VICTORY: The Broncbusters orchestrated a 14-play, 84-yard drive that took 3:53 off the clock. The game-winner came on a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback David Moore to running back Charles West out the backfield.
NEXT: Hutchinson (8-2, 6-1) moves on to play its final home regular season game against Iowa Central at noon Saturday. Garden City (9-0, 6-0) plays No. 12 Butler at home.
Garden City 0 7 10 7 — 24
Hutchinson 7 0 7 7 — 21
HCC: Erwin 52 yd pass from Schucker (Garcia kick), 3:09
GC: Mills 4 yd run (Raybon kick), 5:40
HCC: Jackson 97 yd run (Garcia kick), 12:42
GC: Watt 22 yd pass from Moore (Raybon kick), 5:38
GC: Raybon 23 yd field goal, 0:55
HCC: Jackson 18 yd run (Garcia kick), 9:39
GC: West 6 yd pass from Moore (Raybon kick), 0:18