Garden Plain tops Conway Springs with last-minute touchdown

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By Travis Mounts
TSnews

Friday’s season-opening rivalry game between the Garden Plain Owls and the host Conway Springs Cardinals was a scoreless battle for all but the last 23 seconds of the game.
The Owls’ scoring drive started with a short punt from the Cardinals that gave the ball to the Owls on the Cardinals’ 35-yard line with 4:24 to play.
After eight running plays, the Owls faced a first-and-goal on the 1-yard line with 26 seconds to go. However, a false start penalty pushed the Owls back to the 6. Gage Lee – who gained most of the positive yards on the drive – ran up the middle for the touchdown, the game’s only score. The point-after kick missed.
The Owls overcame two penalties on the drive as well as a fumbled snap on the second play that could have derailed the drive before it started.
The Cardinals had a chance for a last-second miracle, starting at their 20-yard line with 20 seconds to go. The first play was a 10-yard completion to Taylor Wykes, putting the Cardinals at the 30 with 13 seconds to play.
The Cardinals then attempted a long pass down the middle of the field to a streaking Weiss, who was covered tightly by a Garden Plain defender. The Owls were whistled for pass interference, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.
With seven seconds to play, the Cardinals were able to attempt a pair of passes, but both fell incomplete.
Garden Plain has won the past three season-opening games in this storied rivalry, but all have been close. The Owls won 14-13 in 2020, and have won the last two games by single possessions. Garden Plain also won in 2019, giving them four straight wins in this series. Conway Springs had won three consecutive games before from 2016 to 2018.
New Garden Plain head coach Todd Rice, who picked up his first victory with the Owls, and longtime Cardinals’ head coach Matt Biehler agreed that the game was sloppy. The teams combined for 24 penalties, and both teams made mistakes that hurt their scoring chances during the game. There was only one turnover, a Garden Plain fumble.
“There were a lot of miscues,” Rice said. “We’re young, we have only a few guys with experience. It was hard to get into a rhythm.”
Conway Springs had the ball for 18 minutes in the first half. They wanted to control possession, but could not turn that into points.
“It seems we’ve been on the wrong end with Garden Plain lately. It was a hard-fought game. Both teams had chances to separate themselves,” Biehler said. “Every time we got something rolling, we’d get a penalty. We didn’t seem to have much control of what happened.”
True to their identities, both teams relied heavily on their running games. The Owls gained 206 yards on 38 carries, while the Cardinals ran for 154 yards on 44 carries. The Owls completed one of five passes for 31 yards. The Cardinals went 2-for-5 for 13 yards.
The Cardinals’ Brayden Kunz was the game’s leading rusher, with 99 yards on 28 carries. The Owls’ Lee was close behind with 93 yards on 21 carries.
Both teams had chances to score earlier in the game on field goal attempts. Garden Plain’s try late in the first half missed. Conway Springs had a try early in the fourth quarter but the Owls blocked it.
After last year’s loss to the Owls, the Cardinals won six straight games. They won eight straight after the 2020 loss. Conway Springs can start a new winning streak this Friday at the Kingman Eagles, who are coming off a 28-14 win at Cheney last week. Many coaches picked Kingman as the Central Plains League favorite.
“They’re very athletic with a lot of team speed. We’ll have to play error free,” Biehler said. “The kids have been resilient. We have a lot of new kids, and expect a lot of growth this week.”
Garden Plain will host the Cheney Cardinals this Friday, and the Owls are looking to break their two-game losing streak to Cheney.
“We just need to make that Week 2 jump, and don’t hurt ourselves with penalties. We need to practice with more intensity,” Rice said. “Cheney’s athleticism and skill players are concerning. They can run multiple formations.”
Kickoff for both contests will be at 7 p.m.