Five golden opportunities in the red zone Friday night went for naught for the Arkansas City Bulldogs, who were their own worst enemy in a 27-21 loss to Valley Center in AV-CTL D-II football action at Bulldog Stadium.
Three of those opportunities came in the fourth quarter.
Mistakes were aplenty — both physical and mental.
The Bulldogs (2-5, 1-4 AV-CTL D-II) gave away 67 yards in penalties, committed two turnovers and were just 1 of 5 on fourth-down conversions — and those were only the ones that counted.
The Ark City ground game produced a measly 26 net yards and the Bulldogs only attempted 16 running plays, several of those scrambles by quarterback Gabe Welch.
The fourth quarter could safely be considered a nightmare for any team.
That period — that could define Ark City’s season — began innocently enough, with the Bulldogs facing second-and-3 at the Valley Center 12-yard line.
Welch was promptly sacked by Valley Center linebacker Cameron Bowyer for a five-yard loss.
That’s when things turned interesting.
Welch dropped back and threw a pass to Cadon Clark over the middle on third-and-8 from the Valley Center 17. Clark appeared to have caught the ball at the 2-yard line and was trying to force his way into the end zone before losing the ball across the goal line. One official signaled touchdown, but another ruled the pass incomplete.
Welch then threw incomplete on fourth down, but Valley Center defensive back Hunter Sharp was called for pass interference. Usually a 15-yard penalty, but because the Bulldogs were inside the red zone it became half-the-distance to the goal, putting the ball at the 8. Pass interference is not an automatic first down according to National Federal of High Schools.
Given another chance, Welch took the handoff, but turned and collided with tailback Wyatt Bahm, who was tackled in the backfield to turn the ball over on downs.
The Bulldogs got the ball back with 8:37 remaining when Valley Center punter Kade Wilson shanked his punt for seven yards — the only punt of the game.
Ark City marched on an eight-play drive to the 3-yard line. A false-start penalty on fourth down moved the ball back to the 8, but another pass interference flag on the Hornets — instead of a 15-yard penalty was just four measly yards — was followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty — normally another 15 yards, but this time good for just two, and also not an automatic first down — gave Ark City one final shot. However, Welch’s pass to Lucas Barnes was just off his fingertips and Valley Center breathed another sigh of relief.
Ark City was gifted another opportunity, this time in the third quarter when Valley Center quarterback Kaleb Harden fumbled the snap and Ark City linebacker Rhett Lathers fell on it at the VC 19-yard line. However, that drive stalled when Welch was sacked on third-and-goal, and Clark’s 40-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
The Hornets (4-3, 3-2) scored on the first drive of the game with a 12-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 28-yard touchdown run by fullback Benjamin Warner. The drive ate nearly six minutes off the clock.
Ark City responded with an eight-play drive that began when Devon Watkins returned the ensuing kickoff 24 yards to near midfield. The drive was aided by a huge screen pass on third-and-10 from Welch to Owen Bucher, who broke a couple of tackles before sprinting down the left sideline for a 29-yard play. Bahm capped the drive with a 4-yard TD run and Clark’s extra point gave the Bulldogs a one-point lead.
The Hornets, who dominated the time of possession by holding the ball for more than 29 1/2 minutes, used 7 1/2 minutes of the second quarter to score twice.
Tailback Dom Phillips scored on a 2-yard TD run and following an interception Harden found Gabe Phillips on a 22-yard touchdown pass to give Valley Center a 20-7 halftime lead.
If the second quarter belonged to the Hornets, Ark City dominated the third — except for a critical 51-second interval.
On the first play of the second half, Welch threw another screen pass to Bucher, who sprinted down the left sideline again, this time for 69 yards. Three plays later Welch took a keeper in for a 5-yard TD run.
It took the Hornets just two plays to get it back.
Harden threw a short pass to Warner, who broke two tackles before rambling in for a 44-yard touchdown.
Undaunted, Ark City marched on a six-play drive before Welch found Barnes, who made an over-the-shoulder catch in stride for a 37-yard touchdown with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
It stayed that was until the final, fateful end.
Ark City’s final drive of the first half stalled for a myriad of reasons in the final minute. Watkins caught an 18-yard pass and it appeared he ran out of bounds to stop the clock, but the seconds kept ticking off. Clark then caught a six-yard pass, but the Bulldogs still didn’t call timeout. Welch scrambled for four yards and a first down and Ark City called timeout with 11.8 seconds left. On second-and-10, Welch hit Watkins on a 28-yard pass, but try as he might Watkins was unable to bully his way into the end zone as time expired.
Welch finished 20-of-31 passing for 275 yards. Watkins had eight catches for 109 yards and Bucher added five passes for 106 yards, with Barnes chipping in 62 yards on just two catches.
Warned finished with 134 yards on 16 carries. Harden was 12-of-18 passing for 168 yards.
The Bulldogs end the regular season this Friday at home against Andover Central. The Jaguars (5-1, 4-1) shut out cross-town rival Andover 7-0 on Friday to clinch a Week 9 home playoff game.
There’s a slim chance Ark City could still play host to a Week 9 game, but the Bulldogs would need a lot of help. If the season ended today, the Bulldogs would hold the No. 11 seed and play at Buhler in Week 9.
Valley Center 27, Arkansas City 21
VC — Benjamin Warner 28 run (kick blocked), 6:07.
AC — Wyatt Bahm 4 run (Cadon Clark kick), 3:31.
VC — Dominic Phillips 2 run (Hunter Sharp kick), 9:45.
VC — Gabe Phillips 22 pass from Kaleb Harden (Sharp kick), 6:58.
AC — Gabe Welch 5 run (Clark kick), 10:19.
VC — Warner 44 pass from Harden (Sharp kick), 9:28.
AC — Lucas Barnes 37 pass from Welch (Clark kick), 7:46.
3rd Down Conv6-114-9
4th Down Conv1-31-5
Punts No-Avg Yards1-7.00
Time of Poss29:3918:21
RUSHING — Valley Center, Benjamin Warner 16-134, Dom Phillips 21-55, Kaleb Harden 3-19, team 2-(minus 2). Ark City, Gabe Welch 7-29, Wyatt Bahm 9-10, team 3-(minus 13).
PASSING — Valley Center, Kaleb Harden 12-18-0 168. Ark City, Gabe Welch 20-31-2 275, Cadon Clark 1-1-0 32.
RECEIVING — Valley Center, Benjamin Warner 3-58, Hunter Stacy 4-47, Gabe Phillips 4-44, Ethan Vanderwiede 1-19. Ark City, Devon Watkins 8-109, Owen Bucher 5-106, Lucas Barnes 2-62, Cadon Clark 5-25, Lance Blubaugh 1-1.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Ark City, Cadon Clark, 40 (BK).