Trailblazers offense overpowers SME

Pete Logan

Behind the three-headed offensive monster of junior fullback Dawson Kindler, senior quarterback Conner Elder, and junior wide receiver Colton Hawkinson, the Gardner Edgerton High School football dismantled visiting Shawnee Mission East’s defense and pounded their way to a dominant 63-32 opening-night victory Friday evening at Gardner Edgerton District Activities Center.

Kindler paced the Trailblazers by rushing the ball 22 times for 160 yards (7.3 yds./carry) and a whopping 5 touchdowns, while Elder was 7-for-10 passing for 200 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 interception and also carried the ball 3 times for 13 yards, and Hawkinson hauled in 3 receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown, while also going 1-for-1 passing for 25 yards.

After the game, Blazers’ head coach Jesse Owen praised the efforts of his super- productive trio, as well as those of many other GEHS players.

“I’m very proud of those guys,” said Owen of Hawkinson and Kindler initially. “They’re both juniors. Very little varsity experience between the two of them. They came up with some big plays tonight. I think they would be the first ones to compliment the offensive line, and I think Hawkinson would credit his quarterback. I thought Conner Elder did a great job managing the offense and making big plays tonight.”

The Trailblazers couldn’t have asked for a better beginning to the first game of the season. Shawnee Mission East started the game with the ball, but – on the second play from scrimmage – Lancer senior quarterback George Kopp attempted a deep pass to the right side of the field but was intercepted by Blazer junior cornerback Randy Singleton, who gave the home squad the ball at the SME 4-yard line just 49 seconds into the contest. On the opening play of the ensuing Gardner Edgerton drive, Hawkinson completed a halfback pass to senior tight end Austin Buie for a 25-yard pickup to the Lancers’ 22. Five plays later, Kindler bulled his way into the endzone on a dive carry from 3 yards out. With junior kicker Owen Dye notching the PAT, GEHS led 7-0 with 8:56 remaining in the opening quarter.

The Trailblazer defense forced a quick three-and-out from East on their next possession and took over on the Lancer 42-yard line after the punt. On the second play of the possession Elder launched a 26-yard pass into the end zone that was grabbed in a diving catch by Singleton – now play- ing wideout – who laid out completely horizontally in the air for the touchdown reception. The Owen conversion kick gave Gardner Edgerton a 14-0 lead with 7:15 left in the 1st quarter.

Yet Kopp and the East offense were out to prove they were not an undangerous opponent. On SME’s next possession, the Lancers marched 60 yards in 12 plays and capped off their drive with a touchdown when the agile and mobile Kopp found senior wide receiver CJ Leonard for a 19-yard score. After Shawnee Mission East sophomore kicker Topher Schudy kicked the point-after-touchdown, the score was 14-7 with 3:27 left to play in the 1st quarter.

It did not take long for GEHS to respond. On the third play of the Trailblazers’ next possession, Elder found Hawkinson over the middle for a 36-yard completion down to the East 3-yard line. On the next play, Kindler burst into the end zone on a trap carry, and the Blazers’ lead was back up to 14 at 21-7 with Owen adding another conversion with 2:14 remaining in the period.

The Gardner Edgerton defense again forced a three-andout from the Shawnee Mission East defense, forcing a punt and giving GEHS the ball at the end of the 1st quarter. Using a hurry-up offense, the Trailblazers went 53 yards in 6 plays, with Kindler punctuating the drive by carrying the ball over the goal line from 12 yards out on a counter play. Owen’s 4th PAT of the game put the Blazers in front 28- with 10:43 left in the half.

That’s when turnovers began to plague both teams. After Gardner Edgerton forced a third three-and-out from the Lancers, GEHS fumbled the ball back to East three plays later. Shawnee Mission East marched from their own 42 to the Trailblazer 26, but couldn’t convert on 4th-and-2 and turned the ball over on downs. Four plays later the Blazers again fumbled away the ball, giving the visitors a 1st-and-10 at the Gardner Edgerton 28. A sack by Trailblazer senior linebacker Kaleb Green forced the visitors into a 3rd-and-21 from the GEHS 39-yard line. Kopp attempted a deep pass into the middle, but it was tipped into the air by Blazer junior cornerback Cameron Porter and hauled in by his teammate, senior safety Eli Blazic for an interception that gave Gardner Edgerton the ball at their own 10. However, on the next play, Elder attempted a pass to the left sideline but was intercepted by SME sophomore defensive back Christian Gooley, who took the ball 23 yards into the end zone for East’s second touchdown of the night. With the Schudy conversion, the Blazer lead was down to 28-14 with 2:16 left in the half.

If the pick six rattled the GEHS offense, they did not show it. After taking over on their own 10-yard line, the Blazers needed just four plays to strike paydirt once again. On 1st-and-10 from the Blazer 21, Elder found Hawkinson down the left side of the field for a 79-yard touchdown reception. With junior kicker Ashton Adrian now doing the honors, the conversion kick was successful, and the home team had a 35-14 lead with 1:04 left in the half.

However, the Lancers were not done. On the ensuing kickoff, SME senior running back returned the ball 53 yards to the Gardner Edgerton 32. Six plays later, Kopp rolled out to the right, dodging tacklers and connected with junior wide receiver Andres Driver for a 7-yard touchdown catch with 8 seconds remaining in the first half. Still, Shawnee Mission East could not pull to within 14, as GEHS junior cornerback Eli Porter blocked Schudy’s conversion to keep the score at 35-20 heading into the break.

The Trailblazers recharged their offensive batteries by their second possession of the 2nd half and marched 66 yards in 8 plays for their next score. On the final play of the drive, Kindler carried the ball to paydirt on an 8-yard dive run. With Adrian drilling the PAT, the Blazers had a 42-20 lead with 7:34 left in the 3rd quarter.

Yet Shawnee Mission East had their own quick strike abilities to display, and – on their third play of their next possession – the Lancers scored when Kopp connected with East senior tight end Dillon Mong for a 70-yard touchdown pass. Yet, once again, Gardner Edgerton blocked the conversion, this time with junior defensive lineman Spencer Easley bursting through to snuff out the conversion and keep the score at 42-26 with 7:08 left in the period.

However, GEHS suffered their only 3-and-out of the game on their next offensive possession and had to punt the ball away, giving the Lancers the ball at their own 28-yard line. Eight plays later, Kopp carried the ball into the end zone from 3 yards out. East lined up for a 2-point conversion attempt that – if successful – would have brought the visitors to within one score of the Trailblazers. However, the Blazer defense forced an incomplete pass on the attempt, and the lead stayed at double digits, 42-32, with 1:25 left in the 3rd quarter.

Gardner Edgerton stuck to the ground on their next possession, one that would take them into the 4th quarter. The biggest play of the drive was its first play, as Kindler took a counter carry to the left and burst through for a 47-yard gain to the SME 30. On the first play of the 4th quarter, GEHS freshman tailback Syre Padilla capped off the march with a 20-yard touchdown scamper. With the Adrian conversion, the Trailblazers led 49-32 with 11:56 to play.

The Lancers continued to move the ballon their next offensive possession, marching to the Blazer 33 in 7 plays, but – on 3rd-and-10, Kopp threw a pass to the left sideline that was intercepted by the Blazers’ Blazic at the GEHS 8. Blazic returned the pick 32 yards to the Gardner Edgerton 40-yard line, where the GEHS offense took over.

Four plays later, Kindler recorded his 5th score of the evening, when he took a dive carry to the right and dashed 23 yards untouched into the end zone. With Owen returning to notch the conversion, the Trailblazers lead grew to 24 at 56-32 with 7:15 left in the contest.

The Blazers forced one final 3-and-out on SME’s next possession and took over with a 1st-and-10 at East’s 43. After five straight Padilla carries, GEHS senior tailback Kyle Oatman switched up the recipe, by taking a counter carry to the right and weaving through traffic 18 yards into the end zone for the game’s final touchdown. With Owen’s last conversion of the night, the Trailblazers came away with a 63-32 victory.

In addition to the huge performances from Kindler, Elder, and Hawkinson, the Blazers also received significant offensive contributions from senior tailback Dylan Butash, who carried the ball 5 times for 58 yards (11.6 yards per carry) and also collected 1 reception for 10 yards, Oatman – who had 5 carries for 57 yards (11.4 yards per carry) and 1 TD, Padilla – who had 52 yards and 1 touchdown on 8 carries, and sophomore wide receiver Bravin Powell-Brown who hauled in 2 catches for 25 receiving yards. Defensively, Gardner Edgerton was led by who had 2 interceptions for 32 return yards and 2 tackles-for-loss, totalling -3 yards for the visitors. Easley also had a big defensive night for GEHS with 2 tackles-for-loss (-6 yards) and a blocked PAT, as did senior linebacker Therron Meade with a sack (-8 yards) and a pass breakup, Eli Porter with 2 pass breakups and a blocked PAT, and Singleton with an interception and a pass breakup.