GCCC football stuns Indy
INDEPENDENCE - Garden City Community College Head Coach Tom Minnick stood on the field a good five minutes after his team bolted to the locker room following a miserable first half, one that saw his once vibrant offense look like a shell of the unit that demoralized their first three opponents. With his arms crossed, he huddled with offensive coordinator Mike Orthmann and defensive coordinator Jerry Dominguez.
It was the type of thing you don't normally see from the future Hall of Famer. And while the transcript of that conversation will never be made public, it was the beginning of a complete second-half turnaround that started with a journeyman quarterback and ended with another defensive masterpiece.
Oregon-transfer Mike Irwin dusted off his trusty right throwing shoulder to toss two second-half touchdown passes, Shawn Smith punched the ball out of Deontay Wilson's hands in the final seconds, and No. 3 Garden City escaped with a thrilling 14-10 victory over seventh-ranked Independence Saturday night at Shulthis Stadium.
"Our defense was fired up all week," Minnick said with a huge smile on his face afterwards. "All week, we told them that they needed to take down Tavion Thomas. I thought they did a great job."
And for the most part, the 1-2 punch of Thomas and Reggie Williams was neutralized, rushing for a combined 95 yards on 20 carries. But it wasn't the defense that put Garden City in a tricky spot all night, it was the offense, which fell flat on its face over the first 30 minutes. The Broncbusters managed just four first downs and 91 total yards.
"We really struggled to do anything in the first half," Minnick admitted. "And Devin (Larsen) was not 100 percent."
Larsen entered Saturday's game with a right-shoulder injury, which made things worse once the Iowa State transfer was sacked three times, the last of which put pressure on that ailing right arm. But it wasn't all on Larsen; the offensive line struggled mightily to protect, leaving plenty of question marks going into the second half.
Meantime, Independence blew a golden chance to put an absolute stranglehold on the game. After Thomas sprinted around right end for a 13-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter that put the Pirates up 7-0, the rest of the period for Jason Martin's team was defined by a series of gaffs, ones that appeared almost inexplicable.
Midway through the second quarter, Independence marched 64 yards in seven plays to the Garden City one. But instead of handing the ball to Thomas, offensive coordinator Alex Farrah called a pass play on first down, resulting in an incompletion. On second-and-goal, the Pirates were flagged for holding, pushing them back to the 11. That eventually setup a costly mistake by veteran quarterback Brock Domann, whose next pass was picked off by Keylon Kennedy at the two.
"All the credit goes to the defense, who played lights out in this game," Minnick stated.
Following the turnover, the Broncbusters appeared to have dug themselves out of a third-down hole inside their own 5 when Larsen threw a strike to Khamran Laborn for 27 yards. But safety Demarcus Griffin stripped the freshman wide receiver, and Nadame Tucker recovered for the Pirates at the Garden City 29.
"There were certain positions that we needed to get right to be in the mix," Minnick explained. "There are plays where we block it right and we are off for big gains. Then there were other plays where we don't block correctly, and our guys were getting tackled in the backfield."
The fortunate part was that Independence failed to capitalize on the Broncbusters' first-half blunders. Martin's team, which was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct once they got the ball back, were forced to punt from the Garden City 37.
But that wasn't the biggest train wreck of the night. That happened following the Broncbusters' second giveaway when Anthony Campbell stripped sacked Larsen, and Jeffrey M'ba recovered at the Garden City 17 with 1:00 to play in the half. What transpired after that is hard to explain, even for the most intelligent football player.
Facing a third-and-14, Domann completed a pass to Denzil Alleyne, who wiggled his way up the right numbers for 13 yards to the Garden City 8. With no timeouts and thinking his team had picked up the first down, the sophomore quarterback hurried to the line and spiked the ball. The problem? It was fourth down, and after a long conversation between Minnick and referee Karl Joe Seachrist, the Broncbusters took over on downs with five seconds remaining. It was a mistake you'll rarely see, especially from an intelligent signal caller like Domann, a veteran who was making his fourth college stop after stints at Campbell University, San Bernardino College and Ventura College.
"I've seen it happen before," Minnick said. "That actually happens more often than you might think where guys don't realize what down it is."
It was a massive break for the Broncbusters, who trailed 7-0 at the break.
"Independence made some mistakes, but so did we," Minnick said. "We just found a way in the second half."
At the beginning of the third, Minnick replaced the battered Larsen with Irwin, who immediately infused life into the Broncbuster cause. And after the Pirates went up 10-0 on Wilson Yee's chip shot 21-yard field goal early in the fourth, Irwin went to work. Facing a second-and-20 from midfield on Garden City's ensuing possession, the freshman fired a strike to Laborn over the middle, who danced his way for 36 yards to the Independence 14. One play later, the two hooked up again, this time for a touchdown that sliced the Independence lead to 10-7.
"One thing about Mike is that he competes," Minnick said. "He's a fiery competitor, and our guys fed off of that in the second half."
The Pirates also helped the cause when they gambled on a fourth-and-1 at the Broncbuster 38 with 8:01 to play. The call: a quarterback draw out of the shotgun, which was stuffed by Christian Fuhrman for no gain. It was another head scratcher, considering what Martin's options were in the backfield.
And boy did Minnick's bunch make Independence pay.
Trailing by three, Irwin connected with Scieneaux Jarmon in heavy traffic for four yards and a first down. Three plays later, on third-and-2 from the Pirate 43, the freshman side-armed a screen pass to Devion Hodges, who maneuvered his way up the right sideline for 23 yards and a first down. Then, Irwin hit his backup running back once more for the go-ahead score. It was a euphoric moment for a team which struggled to find an offensive identity for three quarters and was left for dead early in the final period.
"Our guys kept competing," Minnick added. "That's one thing about our team, they have a lot of fight."
The Broncbusters weren't out of the woods yet, and after forcing an Independence three-and-out, Garden City had a chance to ice the game. They were staring at a fourth-and-1 at their own 47 when Minnick rolled the dice.
"Jerry (Dominguez) came up to me and said just go for it; we can stop them if we don't get it," Minnick said.
But the plan backfired when Jonathan Huggins was dropped for a one-yard loss giving the ball back to Independence at the Garden City 46.
Anxious moments awaited after that.
The Pirates slowly carved their way to the Broncbuster 22-yard line. Then, with 40 seconds remaining, Domann zipped a pass to Wilson, who had a clear shot to the end zone. That was until Smith wrapped his hands around his waist from behind and knocked the ball out. Seconds later, Cameron Johnson fell on it in the end zone, ending what could have been a cataclysmic finish to a hell of a fourth-quarter comeback.
"I can't say enough about our defense," Minnick said. "They were all over the place and made plays all night."
Irwin finished 11-of-16 for 144 yards for Garden City, which won for the 14th time in their last 15 road games. Jordan Ford tallied 57 yards on 21 carries, Laborn had four catches for 81 and a score, and Chris Smith recorded a game-high 11 tackles.
Domann was 15-of-30 for 215 yards for Independence, which saw their three-game winning streak verses ranked opponents come to an end. Thomas totaled 62 yards on the ground, and Alleyne reeled in five balls for 97.
The Broncbusters will travel to Hutchinson on Sunday to face the No. 1 Blue Dragons.