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SPOTLIGHT
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Ness City pulls away for win

Published on -10/31/2012, 10:30 AM

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By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

NESS CITY -- Entering Tuesday's contest, Minneola senior quarterback Matt McClaren was the state's leading rusher -- a one-man wrecking crew.

In Minneola's offense, McClaren collects the snap and uses seven blockers to overpower opposing defenses, and it worked for much of the season as McClaren averaged 10.2 yards per carry and totaled 2,033 yards and 37 touchdowns through nine games.

But on Tuesday, Ness City (10-0) demonstrated its No. 1 defense was greater than the state's leading rusher.

The Eagles contained McClaren to his lowest yardage total of the season, and Ness City won 50-14 against Minneola (8-2).

"They were a good team," said Garrett Flax, Ness City senior running back/linebacker. "They tested us, and we weathered the storm. The guys up front did a good job of getting some movement, and we were able to pull away there."

McClaren finished with 133 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries. His 3.0 yards per carry average was well below his 10.2 average entering the game.

"At first they were getting some yards, but then we got things figured out," Flax said. "Guys got some movement up front, and we were able to make some stops."

Meanwhile, Ness City attacked with multiple options.

Flax led the way for Ness City with 100 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries, but four other Eagles had 30 or more yards rushing. Senior quarterback Koltyn Ratliff also completed 6 of 8 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

"With a balanced team like we have, we can attack any position at any time, so it keeps the defense guessing," senior lineman Tucker VonLehe said.

Ness City, ranked No. 1 in Eight-Man Division I according to the statewide media poll, dominated the game, but Minneola kept it close -- by Ness City standards.

The Eagles' 36-point victory was their second closest of the season, and it was just the third time Ness City was forced to play an entire game.

"They did a good job of coming off the ball and executing their game plan," Ness City coach Chris Bamberger said. "They really took it to us."

Minneola started strong. McClaren had 21 of his 44 total carries and rushed for 80 of his 133 yards in the first quarter.

Minneola sapped the clock with its rushing attack, and Ness City left the first quarter tied at 8-8.

But in the second quarter, it was all Ness City, as the Eagles scored 30 unanswered.

Ness City produced big play after big play through the legs of its running backs, senior Dalton Ganz, sophomore Pedro Flores and Flax, and the arm of Ratliff.

In the second quarter, Ratliff connected on a 27-yard play-action pass to senior receiver Matthew Frank that set up Flax's 3-yard touchdown run.

Ratliff connected on another long post pass to Gantz, but that one went 55 yards for the score.

Flores took a direct snap on Ness City's next drive and scored from 28 yards out, and Gantz added another long touchdown run with 1:32 remaining in the second quarter. Gantz ran right and cut left across the field to score on a 55-yard run.

Ness City and Minneola traded scores on long drives in the third quarter. Ratliff capped a 52-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to junior Trevor Hawkins and McClaren scrambled for a 4-yard touchdown to end a 45-yard drive.

Ratliff scampered for Ness City's final touchdown with 7:41 remaining in the fourth, breaking a 34-yard run.

While Minneola averaged 3.4 yards of offense per play, Ness City averaged 10.5. Minneola actually abandoned the run late in the game and was more successful passing, which was unusual considering Minneola averaged just 32.8 yards per game passing entering the contest.

McClaren completed 10 of 13 passes for 86 yards in the third and fourth quarters.

Bamberger said the key to stopping McClaren was being sound defensively.

"They just snap him the ball and use those two guys as extra blockers, and they make it real tough," Bamberger said. "They pound it for three or four yards per pop, and they stick with it. You've got to be sound and you've got to by physical if you want to get a stop on them."

Ness City will play in the second round at 7 p.m. Saturday at Pretty Prairie (8-2).

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