The inexperience of the Dodge City Conquistadors football team showed Saturday afternoon in a 39-34 season opening loss to the Ellsworth Panthers at Memorial Stadium.
All three units for the Conqs contributed to the loss according to Conqs football head coach Gary Thomas with the game showing some areas that weren't as solid as they had thought in preseason practice.
"We're 0-1 as a football team and it's very much because of our own doing," Thomas said. "We have a lot of work to do still. We have a lot of young players not ready to play at this level and they have to learn on the run."
The Conqs haven't won their season opener since 2005, including the two seasons under Thomas; but the head coach said it's far from time to start panicking about the 11-game season.
"It's a speed bump," Thomas said. "We lost the first one last year and then won six straight. Sometimes some bad things need to happen to get our attention. I can give you a billion reasons why we came up short. When you add them all up, we're lucky to be as close as we were."
Quarterback Deondre Ford overcame a horrid first half to lead the Conqs back in the second half. Ford threw three of his four touchdowns passes in the second half, and also scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Ford finished 22-of-39 for 327 yards and three interceptions against the Panthers. His two first half interceptions were off receiver hands to Ellsworth defenders; but he tried to force his last pass into triple coverage and was intercepted in the endzone to end Dodge City's final chance for the comeback win.
"He's such an intense guy and he puts so much on his back that he really wasn't himself in the first half," Thomas said. "He wasn't doing things that were characteristic of him in the first half; he really wasn't going through the reads.
"He was trying to do too much too fast; and he needed to play in the framework of the offense, which is what he did in the second half. He was the guy we thought he would be in the second half."
Jeff George caught six passes for 146 yards and William French had seven receptions for 84 yards. Both caught two touchdown passes.
The Conqs also gained 200 yards on the ground against the Ellsworth defense. Keymonne Gabriel ran 28 times for 148 yards despite being banged up during practice and Ford gained 54 on 10 carries.
The offense, however, played far from perfect. Dodge City fumbled the ball four times in the first half, but were able to pounce on it before the Panthers could recover.The Conqs were able to keep drives going, converting on five of their six fourth down tries in the game.
The Dodge City defense did not have the same success on their side of the ball.
The Conqs gave up 486 yards, constantly gave up big plays by missed tackles, missed coverages or by penalties.
Ellsworth ran for 272 yards with quarterback Demarius Davis running for 123 on 15 carries. Zabreion Gunter gained 78 and Xavier Washpun 67 on the ground with each player having at least one rushing touchdown and one run for at least 25 yards.
Demarius Davis was 14-of-26 for 214 yards and two first half touchdown passes (both to Tyrian Taylor) and the Conqs defense were called four times for being offsides (twice in third-and-long situations).
"The defense didn't do a good job today," Thomas said. "There were a lot of holes (Saturday), but we'll get better as the season progresses. We're having trouble getting defensive calls in and had some guys that panicked."
The kicking game also had trouble with a missed field goal and a bad snap that turned into a blocked extra-point attempt. The blocked kick was returned by Ellsworth's Angelo Sumler for two points just as the Conqs had tied the game at 27-27.
The Conqs open up Jayhawk Conference play with a home battle against the rival-Garden City Broncbusters next Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. Thomas said the current situation with his team is more important than facing the Busters.
"We've got so many things to fix on our end that we're not worried about the rivalry or about their scheme," Thomas said. "We'll be worried about their scheme at some point, but what anybody else is doing right now is the least of our concerns."
ELLSWORTH 39, DODGE CITY 34
Ellsworth 6 14 7 12 — 39
Dodge City 0 7 14 13 — 34
E — Davis 1 run (kick failed)
E — Taylor 71 pass from Davis (Balvanz kick)
D — George 53 pass from Ford (Burkhard kick)
E — Taylor 16 pass from Davis (Balvanz kick)
D — French 28 pass from Ford (Burkhard kick)
E — Gunter 37 run (Balvanz kick)
D — George 41 pass from Ford (Burkhard kick)
D — French 12 pass from Ford (kick blocked)
E — Sumler blocked kick return
E — Washpun 25 run (Balvanz kick)
D — Ford 1 run (Burkhard kick)
E — FG Balvanz 20
RUSHING — Ellsworth, Davis 15-123, Gunter 23-78, Washpun 9-67, Taylor 1-5, Balvanz 2-(minus 1); Dodge City, Gabriel 28-148, Ford 10-54, King 2-4, Thompson 1-0, Newton 1-(minus 6).
PASSING — Ellsworth, Davis 14-26-0-214; Dodge City, Ford 22-39-3-327.
RECEIVING — Ellsworth, Taylor 10-142, Stefensen 3-32, Jackson 1-40; Dodge City, French 7-84, George 6-146, Booker 5-69, Bynes 3-34, Gabriel 1-(minus 6).