Blazers crash Bulldog Bash
A physical, in-the-trenches battle between Baldwin High School and Gardner-Edgerton came down to the final minute of action Friday night.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs' football team, the result favored the Trailblazers.
Gardner won the season-opening game 14-7 after scoring a touchdown with 40 seconds left in the contest. This was the second straight year Gardner has defeated Baldwin to begin the season, although this year was much closer than last fall's 36-19 Gardner victory.
"I am so proud of our kids right now," coach Mike Berg said Friday night. "They played their hearts out and they will be sore in the morning. They went against a good, physical ball club tonight. We just never gave up. I think Gardner wore us down in the second half. When you are able to two-platoon, that's a luxury in high school."
Senior linebacker Luke Weaver hated to lose his final Bulldog Bash, which is the tailgating party before the first home game. However, he did say the Bulldogs will learn from Friday's loss.
"We did all right Friday night, but there were some areas that needed improvement," Weaver said. "I like to start the season off with a tough team like that. We'll benefit from this game and it will make us better."
With the game deadlocked at 7-7, Gardner took possession of the ball with 4:50 remaining in the game. The Blazers proceeded to drive 72 yards in 11 plays en route to the game-winning touchdown.
Gardner's Nick Pierson rushed for his second touchdown of the game on a two-yard run with 0:40 left in the game.
Baldwin tried to move the ball, but was unable to as it didn't complete any of its three passes. Gardner regained possession with 0:14 left and the game was over with one final kneel down.
"It was a tough loss," Weaver said. "You hate to lose anytime, but there is some good that will come out of this loss. We just have to fix some mental mistakes."
Those mistakes hurt Baldwin early and allowed Gardner its first touchdown. On the Bulldogs first drive, a holding penalty on third down forced a pass that fell incomplete and a Bulldog punt.
Another holding call stalled the Bulldogs' second drive of the game. Then two BHS fumbles proved costly late in the second quarter.
Seniors Kyle Smith and Zach Durr each fumbled during the final seven minutes of the first half. The first fumble gave Gardner possession on Baldwin's 33-yard line. The Bulldogs stopped a fourth-down play at the goal line to regain possession, only to give it back three plays later.
On a third-down-and-short, Smith ran for a first down but fumbled. Gardner recovered at the BHS 11-yard with 1:28 left in the half. Three plays later the Blazers scored to take a 7-0 lead into halftime.
"We just had two crucial of turnovers and a couple of big penalties that really hurt us," Berg said. "I like what I saw tonight. We are going to improve as the year goes on. This was a learning experience."
Baldwin did answer with a big play late in the third quarter. After recovering a Gardner fumble at the BHS 11-yard line, Baldwin benefited from a personal foul penalty on Gardner.
On the very next play, junior Sam Beecher was nearly tackled before breaking loose on a 75-yard touchdown run that tied the game 7-7.
Beecher carried the ball 13 times for 121 yards Friday night. Several other Bulldogs rushed the ball in the new single wing BHS offense. This offense allows BHS to use many backs to carry the ball.
Berg was happy how well his experienced offensive line played Friday.
"I like how physical we are up front," Berg said. "We are really physical. The linemen were coming off the ball and Gardner was chopping our knees out, which kind of slowed us up a bit. We kept pounding it between the tackles and I like that. I think we are going to be a good, physical ball club. We've got to get those running backs to hold on to the ball, though."
On the opposite side of the ball, Berg was pleased. The Bulldogs defense stuffed the Gardner rushing attack for most of the night, but did struggle against the Trailblazer passing attack. Thankfully for BHS, Gardner dropped several passes.
"Our defense played the best game they've played in years," Berg said. "All of last year we didn't have a defense that could have made those stands and make those big plays. I am really proud of them. They really played hard. Our defensive line and linebackers really did a nice job."
Weaver agreed with his coach about the defensive performance.
"Our defense held them pretty well Friday," Weaver said. "We can power up with pretty much anybody. We worked hard all game, but we got gassed at the end of each half."
The Bulldogs will stay at home this week as they host Paola at 7 p.m. Friday at Liston Stadium.