It turns out Nate Pauly is OK, and so are the Garden Plain Owls.
Pauly returned four days after suffering a knee injury that forced him to miss the majority of Garden Plain’s first-round victory over Independent, scoring three rushing touchdowns and throwing for another to lead Garden Plain to a 34-20 win over Halstead on Saturday night.
Garden Plain (10-1) advanced to the Class 3A quarterfinals and will play at Hoisington (11-0) next Friday, while the season ends for Halstead (9-2).
“He’s a really tough player, definitely the leader of the team,” Garden Plain junior lineman Austin Youngers said. “We knew he was going to be back for a playoff game in his senior year.”
Halstead coach Jason Grider saw Pauly hobble off the field on Tuesday on film, but choose not to tell his players because he knew Pauly would find a way to return by Saturday.
Garden Plain coach Ken Dusenbury said he never doubted the return of Pauly, but did notice that his senior quarterback was less than completely healthy on Saturday night despite Pauly’s 249 total yards and four touchdowns.
“His 100 percent is pretty special, so he’s still pretty good at less than 100,” Dusenbury said.
Each team featured an option attack that is built on grinding defenses down and keeping the clock running, but it was Garden Plain that was able to do it more consistently.
Halstead rushed for 222 yards, but 90 of those came on a touchdown run by Tony Morris and 28 of its 48 attempts went for three yards or less.
Compare that to Garden Plain, which rushed for 354 yards and maintained a 5.6-yard per carry, it’s easy to tell where the difference came in the game.
Pauly gave the credit to his offensive line, consisting of Dylan Gordon, Brady Frerichs, Youngers, Brady Klein, and Jonny Becker.
“This game wouldn’t have been won without our front line,” Pauly said. “They got the push tonight. They were the ones making it easy for us, so I’m trying to give all of our yards back to the o-line.”
Garden Plain opened the game with a defensive stand, then an 11-play, 5-minute touchdown drive to take an 8-0 lead.
Halstead struck back, scoring on back-to-back possessions — both on Morris touchdowns runs — to take a 12-8 lead midway through the second quarter.
But Garden Plain scored on its final two drives of the half, the second coming on a 52-yard strike from Pauly through the air to Leo Larkin, to take a 20-12 halftime lead. The Owls built on it when they opened the third quarter with another 11-play scoring drive capped by a Marty Landwehr (136 rushing yards) touchdown.
“We couldn’t get our defense off the field when we needed to,” Grider said. “We had a lot of missed tackles tonight and a lot of that is Garden Plain. That’s a good ball club. We just had to get off the field defensively and we couldn’t do it.”
Halstead was led by 171 rushing yards by Morris.
Dusenbury pointed out that if you subtract the 90-yard touchdown sprint, then Halstead had 132 yards on 47 attempts, which is a 2.8-yard average.
“They run the option so well that everybody has to do their job,” Dusenbury said. “They broke one on us, so for those guys to be that disciplined against this good of an offense was huge.”
GP—Pauly 12 run (Pauly run)
H—Morris 1 run (pass failed)
H—Morris 90 run (run failed)
GP—Pauly 22 run (run failed)
GP—Larkin 52 pass from Pauly (run failed)
GP—Landwehr 4 run (Dooley run)
GP—Pauly 25 run (pass failed)
H—VanSteenberg 1 run (D. Kraus pass from VanSteenberg)
Rushing: Halstead: Morris 19-171, Heimerman 12-41, VanSteenburg 16-10, K. Kraus 1-0; Garden Plain: Pauly 25-160, Landwehr 26-136, Dooley 10-51, Zoglman 2-7.
Passing: Halstead: VanSteenburg 4-6-0-89; Garden Plain: Pauly 3-6-0-89.
Receiving: Halstead: Mendez 1-50, Morris 1-18, D. Kraus 1-12, Heimerman 1-9; Garden Plain: Larkin 3-89.