By J. LEVI BURNFIN
A lot went wrong on Saturday for the Garden City Community College football team in Hutchinson.
There's no doubt.
The Broncbusters had 20 penalties for 160 yards. They had five turnovers. They had a punter seemingly fake an injury to sell a roughing-the-kicker penalty on the Blue Dragons — that was already a blatant flag — only to have the sophomore punter jump up and run unhindered toward the sideline. As if that wasn't enough, he turned toward the other team's bench and waved. Boom. Another flag at a critical time in the game. And that put a cap on one of the strangest stretches in a football game ever recorded as eight penalties were called between the two teams during a punt and re-punt sequence at the end of the third quarter, including multiple personal foul penalties on Garden City.
It was a total and complete loss of discipline by a talented Buster team — probably even a team that was and is better than Hutchinson.
Despite freshman quarterback Akeem Jones throwing four interceptions, a non-existent running game, a poor showing from the offensive line, and a relatively average night on defense — that was punctuated by the death nail 46-yard play-action strike to give the Dragons the 34-24 lead late in the fourth — the Busters still out-gained the Dragons 328-256. Yet, that lack of discipline, for at least one night, cost them a pivotal conference matchup.
"I think these are the toughest (losses) to take," said head coach Matt Miller with a hint of leftover frustration and disappointment on Tuesday. "You feel you have a team that can definitely have a good shot at winning the ball game and have them make mistakes and, at times, lose their discipline like we did, (that) was disappointing as a coach."
And the team paid for those mistakes again on Tuesday as Miller used the tried and true method of running discipline into his team.
"That's something I addressed today," the first-year head coach said after the "conditioning" practice. "I think our players are going to have a hard time sleeping tonight."
It's likely nobody on the team, coaches included, that has had a good night of sleep since Saturday.
But maybe they should.
It was a bad night. That's clear. Yet, there was some good to it, too. The Busters probably played their worst possible game of the year but were still in striking distance at the end of the game against a good Hutchinson team.
Jones threw four picks but only two could be placed on him, and he was accountable for his mistakes. Instead of ducking inside the bus to head home after the game, he faced the questions about his game.
He knew he had a bad performance. He knew that wins and losses are hung next to the quarterback's name — his name. And he accepted it.
That's a leader. That's somebody who can lead a team, a team who voted him a captain only a few weeks into summer camp.
That's somebody who can, as he said just minutes after the stunning loss, turn this "minor setback into a major comeback."
The Busters have a week off, fortunately, before taking on non-conference foe Air Force Prep on Sept. 21. Then they have five-straight conference contests to re-establish their national ranking after dropping six spots in the most recent poll to No. 18, and to climb back up the conference standings.
"Special" has been the most-used word prior to the season. Both coaches and players wanted to do something special this season. That was their goal. With games against Fort Scott, No.4 Butler, Highland, a rebuilt Dodge City squad, and Coffeyville still on the schedule, that goal is still in reach.
Sports Reporter Levi Burnfin can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org