Garden Plain and Hesston waged a war of reaction Friday night, but the Owls provided the final answer and pulled out a 28-24 road victory.
“They kept pounding, and we kept pounding,” Garden Plain coach Ken Dusenbury said. “They scored a little bit, and we scored a little bit, and we were just fortunate enough to make a play at the end and kind of held on.”
Both teams got off to a slow start offensively, including a first quarter in which the ball never entered Garden Plain territory. Hesston stopped the Owls on downs after Garden Plain had a first-and-goal at the Hesston 1. A false start moved the Owls back 5 yards, and Pauly’s pass fell incomplete.
In spite of this, Hesston scored first on a 66-yard run by junior fullback Parker Roth with 1:54 before halftime. The Owls needed just 17 seconds to tie the score on a 25-yard run by senior Kaleb Snyder.
Garden Plain took the lead on Nicholas Dooley’s 73-yard run with 5:49 left in the third quarter. Pauly hit Snyder for the two-point conversion and a 14-6 lead. But the Swathers took just 48 seconds to cut the deficit to 14-12 on a 59-yard pass from Cameron Cox to Landon Spencer.
In the final quarter, the teams would trade the lead, with Roth scoring on runs of 19 and 52 yards, the final one with 3:37 to play and putting Hesston ahead, 24-20.
But Owls sophomore quarterback Matthew Pauly connected with senior Jared Becker for a 45-yard score with 3:37 left. Junior Ethan McGregor then hit Snyder for his second two-point conversion catch for the final margin.
Pauly’s passing numbers weren’t overwhelming, but he displayed great poise engineering a rushing attack that finished with 318 yards and three touchdowns. Not bad for his first varsity start, Dusenbury said.
Facing a brutal schedule that stays at a high level once Garden Plain gets into Central Plains League play, Dusenbury said Hesston provided a good test that will only help as the season progresses.
“It doesn’t get much more of a dogfight than this,” he said. “You want to play the best, and you want to see where you stack up. We’ve got to get a lot better, though. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
“Our schedule is pretty much loaded. We’ve just got to get back to work Monday.”
Dusenbury said Snyder’s contributions were critical. He was a study in efficiency, with his only two carries resulting in touchdowns totaling 91 yards.
“Kaleb played great,” Dusenbury said. “I think he had two touchdowns and one called back.”
Snyder said the rapid response in scoring is not surprising given the quality of both teams.
“Both teams were fighting it out,” he said. “It was a dogfight. It was going to be a great game all the way to the end.”
Becker also had a big role for the Owls, catching the final touchdown – his lone reception of the night – and making a game-clinching interception at the end.
“That’s just seniors making plays and playing above the level they played before,” Dusenbury said. “You get a new year, a new start, and (Becker) was one of those guys that stepped up.”
The game marked the Hesston debut of coach Tyson Bauerle, who came to the Swathers from Sterling after Clint Rider took the job at Blue Valley Northwest. He said he saw a number of positives for the Swathers after the opener.
“I thought our guys responded well, because we did the same thing (scoring) to them a couple of times,” he said. “This was a good measure for us.”
Next week, Hesston will get a second home game, opening Central Kansas League play against Halstead. But Bauerle said opening with two at home means one thing.
“You’ll have to go on the road for a couple games later on,” he said.
Next week, the Owls will be at home to Trinity Academy in their Central Plains League opener.
Garden Plain 0 6 8 14 – 28
Hesston 0 6 6 12 – 24
H – Roth 66 run (kick blocked)
GP – Snyder 63 run (kick failed)
GP – Dooley 73 run (Snyder pass from Pauly)
H – Spencer 59 pass from Cox (run failed)
H – Roth 19 run (pass failed)
GP – Snyder 28 run (pass failed)
H – Roth 52 run (pass failed)
GP – Becker 45 pass from Pauly (Snyder pass from McGregor)
RUSHING – Garden Plain: Dooley 16-136, Snyder 2-91, Zoglman 17-54, Pauly 12-30, Becker 1-7. Hesston: Roth 17-188, Cox 10-40, Nebel 1-8.
PASSING – Garden Plain: Pauly 4-8-0-103. Hesston: Cox 17-24-2-261.
RECEIVING – Garden Plain: Wilson 3-58, Becker 1-45. Hesston: Nebel 9-133, Spencer 4-86, Roth 2-28, Toews 1-12, Eilert 1-2.