Buhler smothers Maize South en route to 4A-I title game
MAIZE The players on the defensive line for Buhler have been calling themselves the “Trench Squad” this season.
Before each game they set a goal and the goal for Friday’s semifinal game at Maize South was bold.
“We wanted to prove we are Buhler football, we are Crusader football, and we are here to make a name for ourselves,” Buhler junior defensive end Brendan Webb said.
So what was the status report after Buhler’s defense held Maize South to 102 yards in a 27-7 victory to send the Crusaders to Topeka next Saturday to play for the Class 4A-Div. I championship against Bishop Miege?
“I feel like the Trench Squad exceeded our goal,” Webb said with a smile.
Dalton Brown continued his workhorse season, carrying 34 times for 155 yards and a score, and Buhler converted 10 third downs, but the Crusaders will return to the state championship game for the first time since 2013 because of its pair of defensive ends, Webb and senior Braden Rose.
On the very first snap of the game for Maize South’s offense, quarterback Ethan Richardson dropped back and had to rush a throw that fell incomplete because Rose came crashing down. It was a preview of how the rest of the game would unfold.
“I feel like that had to do something to him,” Rose said. “That quarterback knew from the beginning that he was going to get that the rest of the game.”
Rose and Webb would line up wide in Buhler’s four-linemen sets, giving them enough room to use their speed to their advantage. It didn’t really matter where they went, it seemed like they consistently were in Maize South’s backfield.
“We were running down the middle, we were running around the edges, we were running in the gaps,” Webb said. “It felt like we were just running past them.”
Maize South finished with five three-and-outs in its first six possessions with the other ending in a lost fumble after the first play. The Mavericks failed to generate a first down until there were 15 seconds remaining in the second quarter and Buhler had taken a 17-0 lead.
At halftime, Buhler’s defense had limited Maize South to 32 yards.
“Their D-ends really came to play tonight and we didn’t,” Maize South coach Brent Pfeifer said. “They’re so big and physical and fast and we just had a really hard time blocking those guys this week. They were really good.”
If not for a fumble scooped up by Maize South linebacker Justin Swafford and returned to the Buhler 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter, Buhler’s defense likely would have earned a shut out. And even on the score, it took Maize South four plays to gain four yards before Richardson plunged in from a yard out to make it 27-7.
Buhler coach Steve Warner said that Webb and Rose were so effective controlling the line of scrimmage that it freed the rest of Buhler’s defense to roam free.
Maize South couldn’t generate early-down yardage with its running game (34 yards on 25 carries) and then Richardson rarely had enough time to look downfield because of Webb and Rose, as he had to settle for short passes over the middle or to the flats.
The longest Maize South play of the game was 12 yards, as only two of its 47 plays went for longer than nine yards.
“That was about as big as it gets,” Warner said. “We didn’t have to blitz. Our front four just did an outstanding job.”
Webb was even involved in the offense, catching his first two passes of the season — both for touchdowns.
His first touchdown came from 14 yards out on third down for the first score of the game, then his second came on another third down play in the third quarter to push Buhler’s lead to 24-0.
While Maize South’s defense did well to limit the big plays by Buhler, it simply couldn’t overcome being on the field for nearly 30 minutes of the game. Buhler finished 10 for 18 on third-down conversions and only punted twice, while Maize South was 2 for 12 on third down.
“I think we were excited to just be to this point,” Pfeifer said. “And that’s on me. I should have done a better job. Obviously those guys are a more experienced team at this stage. We need to learn from this night and move forward.”
When word reached Buhler’s players after the game that Miege, the two-time defending champion, would be their opponent, they immeditely embraced the underdog role.
The Trench Squad may have found its next goal.
“I feel like we’ve been the underdog these whole playoffs,” Webb said. “I kind of like showing people that even underdogs can do better than what you think.”
B—Webb 14 pass from White (Rose kick)
B—Rose 38 field goal
B—Brown 16 run (Rose kick)
B—Webb 3 pass from White (Rose kick)
B—Rose 26 field goal
MS—Richardson 1 run (Sheehan kick)
Rushing—Buhler: Brown 34-155, White 13-44, Goertzen 5-10, Burkhart 2-2. Maize South: Bliss 7-27, Richardson 11-4, Minks 1-3, Parke 6-0.
Passing—Buhler: White 6-10-1-96. Maize South: Richardson 10-21-0-68, Moses 0-1-0-0.
Receiving—Buhler: Smyres 2-61, Webb 2-17, Wiehl 1-14, Brown 1-4. Maize South: Minks 4-23, Seiler 3-24, Wiens 3-21.