Fans of the Arkansas City High School football team have hung with the Bulldogs through the good times and the bad. Those fans had much to cheer for Friday on Homecoming night.
The Bulldogs scored on several big plays in the first half, then used a tenacious second-half defense to hold off Goddard for a 27-21 victory in an AV-CTL D-II thriller at Bulldog Stadium.
It was the first victory for Arkansas City against the Lions since 2011, when the Bulldogs won 33-27 at home. Goddard had outscored the Bulldogs 304-63 in the past seven years. The teams didn’t play in 2012 or 2013.
Junior quarterback Gabe Welch threw for 247 yards and four long touchdown passes in the first half, and the defense held the Lions to four first downs in the second half.
The Bulldogs (1-2, 1-1 AV-CTL D-II) wasted little time moving the football.
Ark City twice tried to utilize the receiver-option passing ability of junior Cadon Clark, including the first play from scrimmage.
That pass just caught the fingertips of senior tight end Lance Blubaugh. The second attempt, with 6:31 left in the first half, was slightly overthrown intended for senior receiver Lucas Barnes.
The Bulldogs shrugged them both off.
On the third play from scrimmage, Welch fired to Clark on the left sideline near midfield and Clark cut right into open territory, outrunning the Goddard defense for an 83-yard touchdown.
“Gabe threw a great pass and hit me in stride. Then Trevor gave me a great block, and I was able to get in the open field,” Clark said. “We have some speed on our team once we break free, so Friday night was fun.”
Trailing 14-7 early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs set up shop at their own 35-yard line and went on a six-play drive capped by Welch’s 27-yard touchdown strike to junior receiver Trevor Pierce.
And that second receiver-option pass that fell incomplete? On the very next play Welch fired a pass near midfield to Barnes and Barnes ran untouched the rest of the way for an 80-yard touchdown.
“We were able to figure out their coverages quicker than the other teams,” said Welch, who finished 13-of-22 passing for 299 yards. “They were playing a shallow coverage. I was just giving my guys an opportunity and Trevor had a good game.”
The Ark City defense held the Lions (0-3, 0-2) on third- and fourth-and-short to turn the ball over on downs. Stellar tailback Dylan Reese, who finished with 158 yards and two TDs on 20 carries, was stuffed on third down by sophomore lineman Joe Thomson for a loss. Junior linebacker Wyatt Bahm then met Reese on a shovel pass for no gain on fourth down.
The offense then went back to work — for all of three seconds, anyway.
On Ark City’s first play from scrimmage Welch found Pierce wide open on a 49-yard touchdown pass with 3:28 left in the first half for a 27-14 lead.
“During practice the coaches call me ‘Twizzle.’ I have to earn (Trevor) back,” Pierce said. “I took the challenge and I succeeded. And so did the team.”
Goddard matched the first touchdown of the game with a seven-play drive capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Reese, but after an illegal snap on the extra point forced kicker Gabe Villegas back five yards, Ark City junior Max Mendez broke through the line and blocked the extra point.
A holding penalty on what would have been a 20-yard pass forced the Bulldogs to a rare first half three-and-out on their next drive, and the Lions stole a play out of the Ark City playbook when quarterback Lake Hamilton did a masterful job of hiding the ball on a fake handoff to Bo Bantz and hit Reese wide open for a 40-yard touchdown pass to give the Lions a brief 14-7 lead — their only lead of the game.
Goddard marched down to the ACHS 16-yard line, but Pierce — playing cornerback — stepped in front of Hamilton’s pass for an interception in the end zone — the only turnover of the game by either team.
The Bulldogs were shut out in the second half, but Ark City’s patented “bend, but don’t break” defense barely even bent.
After amassing 264 yards of total offense and 14 first downs in the first half, the Lions were held to 117 total yards and four first downs after the break.
The Lions were held on their first three drives of the second half despite taking the ball inside the red zone on their third attempt. Facing fourth-and-goal at the 8-yard line, Hamilton ran a quarterback keeper to the left side, but senior linebacker Aiden Whetstone forced him out of bounds after a yard gain as Goddard turned it over again.
The only bend in the Ark City defense in the second half came when Reese broke tackles into the end zone on a 38-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs were content on working the clock and allowing the defense to take over.
With one final drive for the go-ahead score, the Lions took over at their own 7 with less than a minute to play. They moved the ball inside Ark City territory, but with no timeouts remaining Hamilton was forced to spike the ball on third-and-1 after Clark tacked him on a keeper with 1 1/2 seconds left. Hamilton’s final pass fell incomplete and the stadium celebrated Ark City’s first victory of the season.
“Our coaches do a great job of preparing us each week,” Clark said of the heads-up play to stay in bounds. “I was just happy we converted for the first down.”
The Bulldogs have a tough matchup this weekend at Class 5A No. 5-ranked Maize. The Eagles (3-0) walloped Newton 54-10 on Friday and have outscored their opponents a combined 100-34.
Arkansas City 27, Goddard 21
Goddard 6 8 0 7 — 21
Arkansas City 7 20 0 0 — 27
AC — Cadon Clark 83 pass from Gabe Welch (Clark kick), 7:39.
G — Dylan Reese 3 run (kick blocked), 1:49.
G — Reese 40 pass from Lake Hamilton (Micah Johnson run), 10:27.
AC — Trevor Pierce 27 pass from Welch (kick failed), 9:05.
AC — Lucas Barnes 80 pass from Welch (Lance Blubaugh pass from Welch), 6:17.
AC — Pierce 49 pass from Welch (kick failed), 3:28.
G — Reese 38 run (Gabe Villegas kick), 9:51.
First Downs 17 13
by Run 12 5
by Pass 5 8
by Penalty 0 0
3rd Down Conv 3-12 5-13
4th Down Conv 0-4 0-1
Rush Att-Yards 43-220 30-82
Passing Yards 133 299
Pass Comp-Att-Int 13-24-1 13-24-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-8 2-9
Int Ret-Yards 0 1-0
Fum Ret-Yards 0 0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Kickoffs-End Zone 3-1 6-2
Kick Ret-Yards 2-34 2-33
Punt Ret-Yards 2-29 0-0
Punts No-Avg Yards 5-36.4 6-40.7
Penalties-Yards 6-45 4-52
Time of Poss 24:32 23:28
RUSHING — Goddard, Dylan Reese 20-158, Devin Mathes 8-41, Lake Hamilton 9-13, Jack Enegren 1-8, Bo Bantz 2-6, Micah Johnson 1-2. Ark City, Rhett Lathers 12-53, Lucas Barnes 1-21, Wyatt Bahm 8-18, Cadon Clark 1-6, Gabe Welch 3-4, team 5-(minus 20).
PASSING — Goddard, Lake Hamilton 13-24-1 133. Ark City, Gabe Welch 13-22-0 299, Cadon Clark 0-2-0 0.
RECEIVING — Goddard, Bo Bantz 5-57, Dylan Reese 5-52, Jake Jasnoski 2-23, Zane Peppard 1-1. Ark City, Cadon Clark 5-121, Lucas Barnes 2-90, Trevor Pierce 2-76, Lance Blubaugh 2-13, Rhett Lathers 1-3, Wyatt Bahm 1-(minus 4).
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.