Gering senior Gage Smith put on quite a show Friday night, rushing for 162 yards on 25 carries, scoring one touchdown, intercepting a pass, and kicking two field goals, including one from 43 yards out.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Smith's sparkling performance wasn't enough to help his team prevail in their season opener as Holdrege rallied in the second half for a 21-12 victory at Memorial Stadium.
The Dusters trailed 6-0 at halftime but scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half to take the lead for good.
“I thought our guys did a lot of positive things on offense, defense and special teams,” Gering coach Jimmie Rhodes said. “We just needed to take advantage of what was given to us and take advantage of what we knew they were going to do. We knew what they were going to do, and our guys were in position to make plays. Give credit to Holdrege, though. They have a good football team, and they were ready to play tonight.”
Especially in the second half. The Dusters used a mixture of running and passing plays to gobble up big chunks of yardage in the third quarter. Holdrege took the opening possession of the second half 80 yards in 12 plays, capped by Cooper Rogers' 20-yard TD run, to finally get on the scoreboard and take a 7-6 advantage.
Then after ending Gering's ensuring offensive possession with Dillon Hixson's interception, Holdrege's offense put together another nifty drive, covering 64 yards in seven plays. The series ended with Dakota Fulk's 13-yard touchdown strike to Brenden Kreutzer with 1:49 left in the third period. Fulk's point-after kick put Holdrege ahead 14-6.
Holdrege coach Jason Hale was pleased to see his team respond well in the second half after making some costly mistakes in the first half.
“I told the kids at halftime that I thought we should have put some points on the board in the first half. We had penalties, and we turned the ball over twice. It looked like a first game of the year for us, and I'm sure Coach Rhodes would say the same thing,” Hale said. “But I thought we fixed a few things at halftime. We took care of the ball, and I thought we wore them down. Our kids were relentless on offense; they kept coming after them.”
With Holdrege rolling, Gering needed to step up, and it did. The Bulldogs answered the Dusters' second score with an impressive touchdown drive of their own. Gering did suffer a major setback on the drive, when quarterback Dillon DeMott went down with a leg injury after bolting for a 5-yard gain on the first play of the fourth quarter. DeMott left the field and wasn't able to return.
Gering, though, managed to keep its drive alive, helped by some solid blocking by the Bulldog linemen and some tough running by Smith. Smith, in fact, gained the last 52 yards of the drive, including a 29-yard touchdown run in which he raced upfield after taking the handoff, weaved off to the left side, and then sprinted the rest of the way to the end zone. The conversion run failed, leaving Holdrege with a 14-12 edge.
The Dusters put the game away on their next-to-last offensive possession, when Kreutzer dashed 45 yards for a touchdown with 2:57 to go. Kreutzer finished the game with 118-yards rushing on 16 carries. Rogers added 70-yards rushing on 11 attempts.
Holdrege also had success through the air, as Fulk completed 16 of 26 passes for 201 yards.
Gering's biggest offensive threat was Smith, who gained 103 of his yards in the second half. He also provided the Bulldogs with their only points in the first half, first on a 33-yard field goal with 8:41 left in the second quarter and then a crowd-pleasing 43-yarder with 35 seconds remaining in the first half. His second field goal easily could have covered 50 yards or more.
DeMott added 32-yards rushing on nine carries, and the Bulldogs' offense completed 6 of 20 passes for 104 yards.
Although Gering was disappointed about dropping its opener, Rhodes said his group has a lot of positive things to build on.
“We're going to be all right,” Rhodes said. “We've got a good football team. It'll happen for us."
Holdrege .......................... 0 0 14 7—21
Gering .............................. 0 6 0 6—12