In Brad McCormick’s estimation, the Garden Plain and Conway Springs football teams work with a comparable level of talent at the skill positions on a yearly basis.
The two Central Plains League dynasties have risen to power through gaudy offensive statistics, but McCormick believes the winner of the annual rivalry has nothing to do with who is carrying the ball.
“I bet the Conway coaches would tell you the same thing, that the games are won up front,” said McCormick, Garden Plain’s first-year coach. “During seasons when we have wins and during seasons when they have wins, it’s always the guys up front who make the difference.”
McCormick added another volume of evidence to his case on Friday night, as the Owls ran for 261 yards and 20 first downs in a 41-21 rout of Conway Springs, the previously unbeaten No. 1 team in Class 3A.
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The star of the game, at least on the stat sheet, was Garden Plain’s Denver Doyle, who produced 225 of his team’s 380 yards and scored three times. He couldn’t even accept the credit.
“Our blockers,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief, “I can’t get over it. I can’t tell you how nice it is to run behind those guys. They just drove people back. If they didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have gotten a single yard.”
Listen to the Garden Plain ball carriers, and you would be led to believe they could be replaced by dolls in the backfield and still produce.
“You’ve got to give the praise to the offensive line,” said Dylan Clark, who ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns on 10 touches. “I never really got touched. That’s a respectable team, a great team. But I think we won in the trenches tonight.”
Garden Plain’s offense was so efficient that the game was essentially out of reach when a punt rolled into a blocker for Conway Springs and the Owls recovered in the first quarter. After punching in a score on its first drive, Garden Plain capitalized on the mistake for a 14-0 lead.
Conway Springs was within a score three times, but never had the ball with a chance to tie. Quarterback Tanner Wood could only find 31 rushing yards on 11 carries in the first half, but did end with 152 yards and three touchdowns.
The Owls would go on to score on six of their seven drives and convert 10 of 13 third down attempts. Doyle gave the Owls a new set of downs on 13 of the 26 times he touched it.
“He knew how to sniff the first down, if not the end zone every time,” McCormick said. “He just kept driving his legs tonight and ran the veer real well. He was huge tonight.”
But it was the line of scrimmage where Garden Plain won the game, courtesy of the blocking from Tyler Puetz, Joe Bauer, Tommy Rowold, Ross Hartshorn and Travis Simon.
“We stayed as low as we could go and played our game and did a great job,” Puetz said Puetz. “I felt like we were winning the line of scrimmage most of the time. We have to do our job up front so our running backs can get touchdowns.”
Garden Plain has won six of the previous eight meetings in the regular season, but Conway Springs has ended the Owls’ season in the playoffs three of the last four years.
It was still a meaningful game, both sides concluded, but they each couldn’t help but hint toward a rematch in the playoffs. After all, the second meeting has happened in four of the last five seasons.
“Any time you lose, it hurts,” Conway Springs coach Matt Biehler said. “But we’ll bounce back from it. We’ll be ready to play districts and hopefully we’ll see them down the road.”
“This isn’t it,” Doyle said. “We know we’ll probably see them again.”
GP—Clark 9 run (Puetz kick)
GP—Arnold 2 run (Puetz kick)
CS—Ta. Wood 1 run (Bond kick)
GP—Doyle 3 run (Puetz kick)
CS—Ta. Wood 3 run (Bond kick)
GP—Doyle 3 run (Puetz kick)
CS—Ta. Wood 15 run (Bond kick)
GP—Doyle 57 pass from Arnold (Puetz kick blocked)
GP—Clark 33 run (Puetz kick)
Rushing—Conway Springs, Ta. Wood 30-152, Bodine 4-23, Brozovich 4-22, Stanley 4-12, Huff 1-3; Garden Plain, Clark 10-109, Doyle 23-106, Arnold 9-28, Balestracci 4-14, Lehner 2-4, Bugner 1-0.
Passing—Conway Springs, Ta. Wood 2-9-1-12; Garden Plain, Arnold 3-6-0-119.
Receiving—Conway Springs, Bodine 1-12; Garden Plain, Doyle 3-119.