Andover High School boasted heralded kicker David Kemp, who last season booted field goals of 54 and 43 yards in one game as a sophomore.
The Arkansas City Bulldogs countered with senior kicker Tommy Pacheco.
Pacheco booted three field goals Friday night, and the Ark City defense kept the Trojans out of the end zone in a 9-6 defensive thriller at Bulldog Stadium.
“You knew it was going to be a defensive battle. They are real good on defense,” ACHS coach Jon Wiemers said. “They’re tough to move the ball against them. At the end of the day, we played good, smart, hard football.”
Despite the low score, the game never seemed boring, especially to the Ark City faithful, who rose every time the Bulldogs (1-5, 1-3 AV-CTL D-II) had Andover on third down.
Perhaps that’s because the Trojans (2-4, 1-3) were held to 2 of 13 on third-down conversions and 0 of 3 on fourth down.
The Bulldogs played solid defense like they have for most of the season, recording three takeaways and blocking a desperation punt when the snap sailed over the head of the punter. And the offense — led by freshman quarterback Gabe Welch — committed no turnovers and played just well enough to move into field-goal position three times against a bruising defense in its own right.
“We’ve made some steady development on defense all year. A lot of it is finding the right mix to this puzzle right now,” Wiemers said. “We’ve obviously got a young quarterback that’s going to be a good quarterback. Every game he’s grown. With a young quarterback, every game’s a lesson. I thought we had some really good moments throwing the football.”
Pacheco put Ark City on the board just 54 seconds into the second quarter with his first field goal of the game, from 21 yards.
Kemp evened the score with a 24-yarder with 2:39 left in the first half.
The Bulldogs weren’t finished.
Ark City junior Owen Bucher returned a punt 27 yards and the Trojans (2-4, 1-3) were penalized 15 yards for a chop block, setting up the Bulldogs at the Andover 25-yard line with 37.9 seconds left in the half.
Welch scrambled on a keeper for eight yards, but the clock showed zeroes as Welch hurriedly tried to spike the football. However, the officials reset the game clock to 7.8 seconds, and Welch spiked the ball again before Pacheco booted home a 28-yarder as time expired.
Andover hit a game-tying field goal from 25 yards out.
It stayed that way until the wee minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Ark City defense held on fourth-and-5 at the Andover 42-yard line and the Bulldogs took over with 7:51 on the clock.
Welch was hammered on second-and-8, but Andover was flagged 15 yards for roughing the passer. Tailback Braiden Mattocks ran off of left guard, then performed a 360-degree turn and found ample running room to the right for a 20-yard gain — the longest run of the night for either team.
The drive stalled, though, and Pacheco came on again, connecting from 31 yards out for the go-ahead score with 3:38 remaining.
“I feel like a lot of weight on my shoulders is gone after this ‘W,’ Pacheco said. “We’ve come so close, but reaching that mountaintop, I think tonight we made it.”
Andover marched downfield, but Bucher batted a pass by backup quarterback Christian Gonzalez on third-and-9 at the ACHS 42.
“I was just trying to do my job and stay on top, and let everything else work itself out,” Bucher said. “Everybody is doing their jobs, good reads, we just happened to get touches on the ball and incompletions.”
Rather than go for what would have been about a 57-yard game-tying field goal with a heralded kicker and virtually no wind on the crisp, 40-degree night, the Trojans elected to go for it on fourth-and 9. A false start penalty moved them back five yards, and Gonzales lofted a pass that was intercepted by Mattocks at the ACHS 25-yard line with 1:45 to go.
The Trojans had all three timeouts, and used them to force Ark City to punt again. Sophomore Aiden Whetstone, who averaged more than 35 yards in eight punts, including three inside the 20, booted a punt that went out of bounds at the Andover 20.
The Ark City defense pressured Gonzales into several ill-advised passes, many that were nearly intercepted, and when he threw incomplete on fourth-and-15 with 55.8 seconds remaining, the Bulldogs secured their first victory.
“Everybody executed on defense tonight. Everybody did a good job,” said sophomore Taviahn Mack, one of several two-way players. Normally the fullback, Mack has been aiding the offensive line, many who also play both sides of the ball.
The Trojans managed just 33 rushing yards. Andover was held to 21 total yards, including minus-10 rushing yards in the first half.
Gonzalez finished 14-of-31 passing for 80 yards. Tailback Peyton Henry, who torched the Bulldogs for 167 rushing yards and a touchdown last season, had just 29 yards in the first half and finished with 68 yards on 17 carries.
Andover’s defense was just as stellar, holding the Bulldogs to a net of two rushing yards, including minus-20 ground yards in the second half.
Welch finished 13 of 33 for 139 yards, hitting Daigen Moulton on four passes for 60 yards and connecting with Bucher on six passes for 49 yards.
The Bulldogs play this Friday at Valley Center.
Arkansas City 9, Andover 6
Ark — FG, Tommy Pacheco, 21, 11:06.
And — FG, David Kemp, 24, 2:39.
Ark — FG, Pacheco, 28, 0:00.
And — FG, Kemp, 25, 4:38.
Ark — FG, Pacheco, 31, 3:38.
3rd Down Conv2-134-16
4th Down Conv0-30-2
Punts No-Avg Yards5-37.48-35.1
Time of Poss24:4323:17
RUSHING — Andover, Peyton Henry 17-68, Isaiah Maikori 2-20, Max Middleton 6-7, team 4-(minus 62). Ark City, Braiden Mattocks 18-29, Gabe Welch 3-13, Owen Bucher 1-3, Devon Watkins 1-1, Lance Blubaugh 1-(minus 2), team 6-(minus 42).
PASSING — Andover, Christian Gonzalez 14-31-2 80, Peyton Henry 0-0-0 0, Ashton Ngo 0-1-0 0. Ark City, Gabe Welch 13-33-0 139.
RECEIVING — Andover, Justin Drummond 7-33, Max Smith 3-24, Harper Jonas 1-16, Jerry Garlety 3-7. Ark City, Daigen Moulton 4-60, Owen Bucher 6-49, Andrew Schnackenberg 1-18, Lucas Barnes 1-11, Rodolfo Zapata 1-1.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.