Bolstered by a huge third quarter and stellar second-half defensive performance, the 19th-ranked Hutchinson Community College football team won its fourth-straight Region VI Playoff semifinal on Sunday defeating Dodge City 21-6 at Memorial Stadium.
Third-seeded Hutchinson (7-3) will now play at top-seed Butler (8-1) for the 2013 Region VI Championship at 1:30 p.m. next Sunday at B&G Products Stadium in El Dorado. Hutchinson will be playing in its fourth-straight regional title game and will play for a postseason title for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
Playing with a strong 35 mph wind out of the south and trailing 6-0 at halftime, freshman quarterback Frankie Seurer led a pair of third-quarter scoring drives to take a 14-6 lead. HCC’s defense then grabbed total control of the game when linebacker Akim Francis deflected a Deondre Ford pass into the hands of defensive end Jeremiah Ledbetter, who returned it 7 yards for a touchdown.
Hutchinson’s defense allowed 204 yards in the first half to Dodge City, including 101 yards on the ground to Conquistador running back Tyries Thomas. Those numbers completely turned around in the second half as the Blue Dragons, led by constant pressure from Ledbetter, Claude George and the HCC front seven, harassed Ford and held Thomas to just six rushing yards in the second half.
Linebacker Zack Weekley had 11 tackles to lead Hutchinson against Dodge City. Ledbetter had nine tackles, a quarterback sack and an interception returned for a touchdown.
In just his third start, Seurer led his second second-half comeback after HCC trailed at halftime this season. Seurer completed 13 of 19 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown.
Freshman receiver Chris Murray had seven receptions for a season-high 101 yards with a touchdown.
Freshman running back Chase Abbington had season highs of 27 carries and 138 yards for a touchdown.
The Blue Dragons rushed for 151 yards and had 305 total yards. The Blue Dragons didn’t commit a turnover in the game.
Dodge City was limited to 271 total yards, 1-3 on the ground and 125 through the air. Ford was held to 12 of 32 passing for 168 yards with a touchdown, two interceptions and was sacked twice. The Dragons also had six quarterback hurries against Ford.
When the Blue Dragons had the wind in the first quarter, they did very little offensively, while Dodge City’s Thomas was finding room to run. After a scoreless first quarter, Dodge City partially blocked a Caleb Carson punt and gave the Conqustadors a short field at the HCC 37. Two plays later, Michael Thomas caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Ford, but the extra-point kick was blocked by Marquavious Lewis and Dodge City had a 6-0 lead with 10:33 to play in the second quarter.
Hutchinson dodged a bullet on the Conquistadors’ next possession as they drove to the HCC 10, but the Blue Dragons held on downs to thwart the specter of falling behind by two scores.
The Dragons finally found some offense when Abbington got around the right end and traveled 54 yards to the Dodge City 34. HCC drove to the DC 13 before the drive stalled out and the Dragons turned the ball over on downs.
HCC led 6-0 at halftime.
After several misfires in the first half, the Blue Dragons got untracked in the second half,
Receiving the second-half kickoff, the Blue Dragons drove 64 yards in 11 plays, converting a third-and-1 and third-and-11 on the drive. Abbington finished off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run around left end. With Ryan Weese’s extra point, the Blue Dragons took a 7-6 lead with 9:39 to play in the third quarter.
The Dragons forced a Dodge City three-and-out and took the ball over at their own 33. The Dragons converted a third-and-9 and then on third-and-12, Seurer found a wide-open Murray down the middle of the field for a 24-yard touchdown and a 14-6 HCC lead with 3:42 to go in the third.
Dodge City muffed the ensuing Weese kickoff and took its next possession at its own 16. On the very next play, Ford rolled to his left away from pressure and his pass was deflected by a hard-charging Francis. The ball flopped right into the hands of Ledbetter, who waltzed into the end zone from 7 yards out to give the Blue Dragons a 21-6 lead with 3:32 to play in the third quarter.
The Blue Dragons next possession didn’t yield points, but it ate 7 minutes, 28 seconds off the clock. After failing to convert on fourth and 12 from the Dodge City 23, there was 8:32 remaining on the clock.
Hutchinson then made key stops throughout the fourth quarter.
Francis’ interception stopped a Dodge City drive that moved to the Hutchinson 18. Then after a failed fake punt gave the Conquistadors the ball at the HCC 30, Dodge got one first down to the Hutch 17, but a completion for a yard loss and three straight incompletions stopped that drive.
Dodge City had one more opportunity from the Hutch 26. With first and 10 and the HCC 11, George had a sack of Ford on second down. The Conquistadors’ final chance was turned away with a Ledbetter sack on fourth down.
GAME NOTES – The Blue Dragons are now 5-5 in the Region VI playoffs under Rion Rhoades. … HCC now has seven second-half combined under Rhoades. … The Blue Dragons are now 20-20 in Jayhawk Conference/Region VI playoff games in team history, including 4-21 in road playoff games. … The Blue Dragons are 3-2 vs. ranked teams this season. … HCC is now 45-34-4 all-time vs. Dodge City. … The Dragons are 3-3 vs. Dodge City in playoff meetings. … Ledbetter’s and Francis’ interceptions were Hutchinson’s 20th and 21st interceptions of the season. … Under the current four-team playoff format, instituted in 2006, only three road teams have won in the semifinal round. All three teams were coached by Rion Rhoades – Fort Scott in 2006 and Hutchinson in 2008 vs. Fort Scott and Sunday.