Saturday, November 28, 2009

A City-Wide Celebration

The GEHS football team played Hutchinson in the State Championship game today. We arrived at the Emporia State University football stadium an hour and a half early and still had trouble finding seats. From this picture of the Gardner side of the stadium, I'm guessing there were at least 5,000 people at the game. That's almost one third of the entire population of Gardner. When fans are cheering during warm ups and cheering the band walking into the stadium for their warm ups, you know it's going to be a lot of fun.

And it was a lot of fun, at least for awhile. The crowd was juiced and deafening. Hutchinson took an early 7-0 lead but GEHS quickly countered, which is the video below. Gardner then forced a 3 and out and Bubba Starling reversed field and found his tight end for a 40 yard touchdown. After getting the ball back, the Blazers were forced to punt but with a GEHS coverage man bearing down on him, the Salthawk returner heard the footsteps and fumbled away the punt. Bubba then moved Gardner right down the field inside the red zone but threw a pick on 3rd down. Later in the quarter, GEHS failed to convert a 4th and goal and entered halftime down 21-14.

I'm telling all this about the first half because the 2nd half was a disaster. The massive offensive line wore down GEHS' d-line and began running the ball in big chunks. Two separate times, a Salthawk running back broke free from three GEHS defenders and once ended up running for a TD. Even more demoralizing, was GEHS' failure to field kickoffs, leading to short fields for Hutchinson.

With the exception of Aquinas, no school on Gardner's 2009 schedule gave them much of a game. Gardner has grown so quickly that they're simply overpowering their former rivals, which is why they're moving into the Easter Kansas League next year. But after dominating over matched opponents all of 2009, GEHS was finally on the opposite end of a mismatch. The town of Hutchinson is about 2 1/2 times the size of Gardner and their offensive and defensive lines were just about the same proportion to the GEHS lineman. While GEHS put up a good fight for the entire first half, size and strength eventually won out. The final score was a demoralizing 52-14.

Despite the lopsidedness of the score, the Blazer nation gave their football team a rousing ovation during the runner-up trophy presentation.

There are so many reasons I love living in Gardner and an incredible football program is one more addition to the quality of life. We moved into our house just before the start of the 2004 football season and I've been following the Blazers ever since. Travelling to playoff games has been an additional thrill. It's been really fun to see the whole community unite around the football team. Nothing can bring together a town like a winning sports program.

Based upon the steady improvement GEHS football has shown under 4th year head coach and future KSHA hall-of-famer, Coach Deiner, it's just a matter of time until the entire town gets to celebrate not only a berth in the State Championship game but GEHS' first ever State Championship.

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