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Top-ranked Ness City steamrolls Pretty Prairie

By LUCAS FAHRER

Special to the Hays Daily News

PRETTY PRAIRIE -- Talk about efficiency.

It took Ness City longer to drive to Pretty Prairie than it did to lock up a spot in the Kansas Class Eight-man Division I playoff semifinals.

The Eagles did anything they wanted in a 46-0 pounding of the host Bulldogs and it all happened in a span of 50 minutes with the game called at halftime.

Ness City (11-0) extended its undefeated season and will host Solomon (10-1) on Friday for a chance to play in the Eight-man Division state championship.

And they blew past Pretty Prairie (8-3) thanks in large part to the two guys who have brought them this far: running backs Dalton Gantz and Garrett Flax.

Gantz paced all rushers with 101 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries while Flax added 39 rushing yards and a TD while adding a couple nifty punt returns.

"We came out here two years ago and they kind of took it to us," said Gantz, referencing Ness City's 58-12 loss to Pretty Prairie in the first round of the 2010 playoffs. "We wanted to return the favor this year. I give all the credit to our line. We could've done anything against anybody tonight because our line was huge."

It all started on the game's opening kickoff. Ness City booted the ball into no-man's land between the returners and the up-back and the Eagles managed to hop on it before Pretty Prairie's players for an improvised onside kick.

"We just got a lucky break and I that's what it takes, I guess, this time of the year," Ness City coach Chris Bamberger, who added that they weren't attempting an onside play.

Three snaps later, Koltyn Ratliff hit Trevor Hawkins for a 20-yard touchdown pass and Gantz ran it in on the point-after to make it an 8-0 game.

A three-and-out by the Bulldogs preceded Ness City's next drive -- a five-play, 46-yard effort -- that Gantz capped with a 13-yard run. Ratliff and Hawkins hooked up on the two-point conversion to make it a 16-0 game less than five minutes into regulation.

Pretty Prairie sputtered again on its next drive with quarterback Alex Mains taking a sack and misfiring on consecutive pass attempts.

Ness City just picked up where it left off. A 50-yard pass from Ratliff to Hawkins moved the Eagles to Pretty Prairie's 11 and Gantz took it from there, running it in for a one-yard gain and then a 10-yard score.

After Ratliff ran it in for two points, pushing Ness City's lead to 24-0 with 5:52 left in the first quarter, the rout was officially on.

"You never go into a game expecting to be dominated. You don't ever want to have that anticipation," Pretty Prairie coach CT Young said. "We thought all week that we'd have a chance to compete but they definitely wanted it more than us today."

The Bulldogs got a much-needed spark from Jacob Welker, who returned the first of only two Ness City punts for 49 yards to the Eagles' 16-yard line.

A 12-yard completion from Mains to running back Mark Schnittker on fourth-and-11 ended the first quarter and set up a first-and-goal at the Ness City five-yard line to start the second quarter.

But in a microcosm of the whole game, Ness City manhandled Pretty Prairie's front. Trey Tallant managed to pick up four yards on a catch-and-run on second down but consecutive runs from the one-yard line were stuffed by the Eagles, keeping the shutout intact while the Bulldogs fizzled.

"Not letting the quarterback set his feet and throw and any time you can do that it helps your back end out," Bamberger said. "Our back ends were in good position a lot of times to make good plays on the ball."

Bryan McVicker was that terror, harassing Mains in the backfield for the whole half. Pretty Prairie's run game was the epitome of a non-factor, netting zero yards.

Ness City put together its longest drive of the game after its goal-line stand by driving 78 yards from their own two-yard line on 12 plays, finishing with Flax's three-yard scamper.

The Eagles, who scored on six of their eight possessions, added to the deluge of points by staying behind their dominant offensive line. Lawrence Turner scored a TD on a 24-yard run and Gantz put the finishing touches on the beat down with his 21-yard sprint to the end zone with 1:52 left in the half.

"I think our boys up front did a really good job coming off the ball and any time those boys are rolling, our offense can have success," Bamberger said.

Ness City churned out 198 rushing yards and 88 passing while Pretty Prairie was limited to just 64 yards, all of which came through the air. Mains, dropping back under constant duress, hit on eight of 22 attempts with an interception.

If the matchup wasn't tough enough for Pretty Prairie, finding traction was harder. The Bulldogs looked rudderless against a team that grabbed a hold of the game early.

"The opening kickoff, making a mistake like that and getting behind, and then getting down inside the one and not being able to score, I don't want to say we play bad because I don't want take anything away from them," Young said. "(Ness City) played really well. They're well-coached. Coach Bamberger does a great job. They're undefeated for a reason.

"You name it, they dominated every phase of the game."

And the Eagles drove that point home - quickly.

"We prepare every game like we're going to have a four-quarter battle," said Gantz, who now has 1,002 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground this season. "You come here into the first quarter like it's going to be that and we just try to take it to them as much as we can."