Jhet Burkhart wasn’t involved with every big moment in Buhler’s 17-14 victory over Maize South on Friday.
But the Crusaders senior fullback and linebacker had a hand in some of the most pivotal.
Burkhart intercepted a pass that set up Buhler’s second touchdown in a 20-second span of the first half, then providing blitzing pressure on a fourth-down play late in the game that put a stop to Maize South’s comeback attempt.
“He’s just a great football player,” Buhler coach Steve Warner said. “A great football player.”
A week after handing Collegiate – the former No. 1 team in Class 4A-Division II – its first loss, Buhler (3-1) held off Maize South, No. 2 in 4A-I. The Crusaders built a 17-0 lead in the opening minute of the second quarter, then overcame three fumbles to defeat Maize South for the third time in two seasons.
“Our defense was outstanding,” Warner said. “Coach (Jason) Kohls made some great adjustments and did a great job.
“The kids played hard, they ran to the ball hard and were just wonderful.”
Another Buhler senior, Dalton Brown, ran for 158 yards and a touchdown on 33 attempts. Burkhart added a 15-yard score on the first play of the second quarter, and Braden Rose booted a 26-yard field goal in the opening quarter, which were the first points Maize South (3-1) allowed this season.
“It took a little bit for our kids to catch on,” Maize South coach Brent Pfeifer said. “The first quarter, we were kind of behind it with the wind and some penalties. We put our defense in a hole a couple times and that’s on us offensively.
“But from the second quarter on, they were nails.”
Facing a stiff south wind and Buhler’s strong defensive front, Maize South had just five yards of offense in the opening quarter. But Buhler was limited to Rose’s field goal before starting the second quarter at the Mavericks 15.
Burkhart took it from there, running untouched through the middle to stretch Buhler’s lead to 10-0.
On Maize South’s ensuing play, Burkhart jumped in front of quarterback Ryan Grabman’s pass and returned it to the Maize South 43. Brown, who ran for 305 yards in the victory over Collegiate, scored on the next play to make it 17-0 with 11:36 to play in the first half.
Maize South countered with a 48-yard touchdown pass from Grabman to Corey Minks. The play accounted for more than half of the Mavericks’ first-half offense as Buhler outgained them 202-86.
A battle between two formidable defenses carried on in the second half. Maize South punted the ball 10 times, Buhler seven. With Maize South needing a break as the 17-7 stalemate moved into the fourth quarter, the Mavericks got one.
After Maize South punter Korban Trapp pinned Buhler at its own 1 with a 66-yard boot, Buhler quarterback Ben Epp fumbled on the next play and the Mavs recovered. Maize South’s Max Domnick bowled across the goal line on the next play to cut Buhler’s lead to 17-14 with 11:12 remaining.
“We put the ball on the ground three times and that’s not good,” Warner said. “Interceptions can be from athletes, but fumbles, that’s mental.”
Maize South’s issues included two personal foul penalties in the second half from protesting calls that weren’t made on Buhler. The second came on Pfeifer after Domnick was dragged down hard on a 7-yard loss.
The Mavericks pushed into Buhler territory three times trailing 17-14, but the Crusaders, who allowed just 192 yards, stopped them each time.
“We moved the ball several times and just couldn’t avoid the mistakes, I guess,” Pfeifer said. “If you want to call them that, maybe. We’ll go back to the film and see if they were.”
Buhler (3-1)3 14 0 0 – 17
Maize South (3-1)0 7 0 7 – 14
B—Rose 26 FG
B—Burkhart 15 run (Rose kick)
B—Da. Brown 43 run (Rose kick)
MS—Minks 48 pass from Grabman (Bliss kick)
MS—Domnick 1 run (Bliss kick)
Rushing—Buhler, Da. Brown 33-158, Burkhart 6-32, Epp 13-23. Maize South, Domnick 22-60, Bliss 3-(-4), Minks 1-(-4).
Passing—Buhler, Epp 8-14-0-56. Maize South, Grabman 12-29-2-103, Domnick 1-1-0-37.
Receiving—Buhler, Smyres 6-45, Burkhart 1-14, Da. Brown 1-(-3). Maize South, Minks 4-72, Veemis 4-62, Bliss 5-6.