KINGMAN – It’s been less than five years ago since the Garden Plain football program was an annual contender for a state championship.
But missing the playoffs and back-to-back losing seasons have quickly put things in perspective for the players. They weren’t going to be handed wins for the work their predecessors did.
So the senior class at Garden Plain has been driven since the early days of this summer to restore the pride once associated with the program. Their work was rewarded Thursday night in the form of a 21-7 victory, as Garden Plain claimed the second playoff berth from Class 3A-District 11.
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The Owls (8-1) will make their first appearance since 2012 in the Class 3A playoffs on Tuesday at Hesston, while Kingman (5-4) was eliminated.
“We let the community down and most importantly we let ourselves down in the past,” Garden Plain senior Jonah Nowak said. “It’s really important to us that we helped bring our community up and represent Garden Plain in a positive light.”
It was a throwback game for Garden Plain, as it leaned on a hard-hitting defense that suffocated Kingman’s running game and a running game of its own that produced just enough plays to earn victory.
“We hit them first,” Garden Plain linebacker Walter Stuhlsatz said, “that’s how we do it in Garden Plain.”
After Kingman scoring on its opening possession, its final eight drives would end scoreless and with just six more first downs. That’s a result of the work that Nowak, Brady Frerichs, and Dylan Gordon did in the trenches for Garden Plain’s defense.
“In a game like this, you just have to keep doing what you do and stay true to what you do and what you believe in,” Garden Plain coach Ken Dusenbury said. “And sometimes it’s about the players making plays.”
Once again Nate Pauly, Garden Plain’s do-everything weapon, veered from the script and produced his own special brand of plays, as the diminutive junior would turn a modest seven touches into a game-high 136 yards and two touchdowns.
After breaking a 7-7 tie midway through the third quarter on a 16-yard touchdown reception, Pauly would save his finest play of the night in the most improbable situation to seal the win for the Owls.
Backed up in a second-and-30 situation with Garden Plain just trying to preserve a 13-7 lead late in the fourth quarter, Dusenbury called a double hand-off reverse to try to give Pauly the ball in open space. Sure enough, Kingman’s defense over-committed and gave Pauly the sliver of space he needed to operate.
“That feeling,” Pauly said of turning the corner and seeing nothing but grass, “that’s like heaven. You’re just running.”
Pauly would suck the secondary to the sideline and then with five yards to the end zone, plant his foot and make a cutback so devastating that both defenders crumpled to the ground as he walked in for the game-clinching, playoff-sealing 44-yard touchdown run.
“I didn’t even have to look,” said Stuhlsatz, who handed the ball to Pauly. “I knew he’d be gone right away. Right when I handed it off, I knew he was gone.”
And for the first time in three years, Garden Plain has something to celebrate with its football team.
“I was very happy for the seniors,” Dusenbury said. “This class has never played in the playoffs and it means a lot to them to make it. I’m just very, very happy for them.”
Winner X, Loser Y
K – Giefer 5 run (Franco kick)
GP – Bergkamp 6 pass from A. Becker (Pauly kick)
GP – Pauly 16 pass from A. Becker (kick failed)
GP – Pauly 44 run
Rushing – Garden Plain, Pauly 3-73, Landwehr 12-59, Stuhlsatz 11-37, A. Becker 9-36, Wright 6-23, Ellis 1-3; Kingman, P. Pickering 16-72, Giefer 11-61, Hartley 8-17, Ontiveros 1-0.
Passing – Garden Plain, A. Becker 11-16-151-0, Pauly 1-1-12-0; Kingman, Hartley 2-3-57-0, Adelhardt 2-6-18-0, P. Pickering 1-1-2-0, Ontiveros 0-1-0-0.
Receiving – Garden Plain, Pauly 4-63, Dockers 5-55, Wright 1-27, Ellis 1-12, Bergkamp 1-6; Kingman, Adelhardt 1-37, P. Pickering 2-31, Hartley 1-7, G. Pickering 1-2.