The defending state champion Conway Springs team came into their matchup with Garden Plain as the underdog. In the second round of the 3A playoffs, the Cardinals had only lost one game. That one loss was to Garden Plain during the regular season. Garden Plain came in undefeated and remained that way. The Owls came out on top of the rollercoaster battle 33-28.
Every possession counted. The first quarter was composed of one scoring drive by Garden Plain. Junior quarterback Caleb Arnold started it off with a keeper to the far side of the field. The Cardinals would get their time in the first quarter; however, they maintained control of the ball on offense until the beginning of the second. On third and six, Conway Springs quarterback Tanner Wood swept in the six yard touchdown to tie the game at 7. Wood was the Cardinals workhorse with the finesse of a quarterback and the physicality of a running back.
Garden Plain also had their workhorse. 215 pound running back Denver Doyle broke free through a perfect opening created by his lineman. He took it 40 yards to score. That was not his last touchdown and he dominated the ground game; however, he gave all of the credit to his line.
“Without them I wouldn’t be able to do anything,” Doyle said. “Especially the blocking downfield.”
Wood and his Cardinals would respond with a 12-yard quarterback sweep into the end zone.
The Owls took a 13-point lead on the following two possessions. Garden Plain head coach Brad McCormick knew that was when they needed to take advantage.
“The last time we played them our stats were pretty comparable,” he said. “We knew we got some breaks and got a two touchdown lead. Obviously, that wasn’t enough and they would respond. Emotionally, you always don’t want to mess up and take care of the ball and do all the fundamental things and we had to capitalize on that.”
With four minutes left in the game the intensity could not have been higher on both sidelines. Wood punched in a four-yard keeper. Garden Plain kept the lead 27-21.
Garden Plains’ Dylan Clark took a pitch to the far sideline on the following drive and dove into the end zone. Garden Plain was still ahead 33-21 and the momentum was on its side as the clock ticked down.
With only minutes left, a 60-yard touchdown pass from the brothers Wood, Tanner to his brother Travis, closed the gap on the scoreboard 33-28.
“The last play where they scored on that passing touchdown kind of freaked me out,” Doyle said. “I’m not going to lie but the one run that I had at the end that was first down. That’s when we knew we sealed it.”
He did earn the first down after a rushing battle and the Owls won 33-28.
“Even when we were up by 13 at one point I knew that they were not going to give up they are a team that’s relentless year in and year out,” McCormick said. “They struck quick with a pass that you don’t see Conway do but they did a very good job of that tonight. Tanner throws the ball well for them and our kids responded well. We just knew that we had to move the ball and keep that clock running.”
“Garden Plain is a very good football team so hats off to them and how they battled through,” Conway Springs head coach Matt Biehler said. “That’s a tough loss for our kids because they have worked so hard to get there. They knew what was at stake and I was so proud of our boys for battling the way they did tonight.
Now, the Owls head on to the next round of state playoffs to take on the Scott City Beavers. Both teams are undefeated.
“They have a very balanced attack,” McCormick said about preparing for the Beavers. “I watched them a little last year from playoffs and O’Neil does a great job with them. His son is the quarterback and obviously when you have a son that’s a quarterback he knows the offense as well as anyone. They’ve always had great athletes out there so we’re going to have our hands full and we’re going to try to prepare the best we can.”