ZEPHYR — Second-year head coach Shannon Williams expected senior leadership to one of the Zephyr Bulldogs’ greatest assets in 2014. But by the end of Saturday’s season-opening 52-6 loss to the Class A Division I No. 6 Garden City Bearkats, only one of the six members of the Class of 2015 on the Zephyr roster left the Quirl Bulldog Stadium turf unscathed.
Already playing without injured Jayden Choat, Kyle Newton and Seth Jesko, Bulldog Chris Dixon was stretchered off the field early in the second period after taking a helmet shot to his abdomen, while an exhausted Kade Miller was assisted off the field at the game’s conclusion.
“When we came in we felt like we were going to have a lot of depth with the seniors, and we don’t have that right now,” Williams said. “We still have some tough teams coming up on our schedule, but hopefully we’ll have the seniors back by district ready to go. We lost Choat last week and Newton and Jesko in the first scrimmage and now the first game we lose another senior. I’m not sure what happened with Dixon. He got hit down low, below the belly button, and then he hyperventilated.”
As for the game itself, the Bulldogs struck for the first points less than a minute into the contest, but Garden City dominated the remainder of the action — which was called at halftime due to the 45-point mercy rule.
“We got the opening touchdown and then played some pretty good defense, but they have 16 kids and were two-platooning in 100-degree weather,” Williams said. “Our kids are having to play both ways and we’re also having to play a lot of young kids. They got after us.”
Bishop Norman, who rushed for 110 of Zephyr’s 112 yards of total offense, scored on a 51-yard scamper on the second snap of the game, and the Bulldogs led 6-0 just 39 seconds into the contest.
Garden City, which eventually cranked out 319 total yards, averaged just 4 yards per snap over its first five plays, but Ismael Ramirez — who finished with 134 yards rushing —broke free and galloped 35 yards for a touchdown at the 7:50 mark, knotting the score at 6.
Zephyr was again on the march on its second possession, but a fumble at the Garden City 16 — one of four Bulldog turnovers — completed shifted the tide in favor of the visiting Bearkats.
A 46-yard carry by Angel Zuniga set up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Riley Eggemeyer to Tanner Davis as Garden City grabbed a 12-6 lead with 4:06 in the first period and never looked back.
A 10-yard run by Isaiah Enriquez with 27 seconds left in the first quarter pushed Garden City’s lead to 20-6, while Isaac Enriquez hauled in a 29-yard scoring reception from Eggemeyer — who completed 5 of 6 passes for 88 yards and three touchdowns — to boost the advantage to 28-6 with 9:05 left in the half.
Zephyr failed to recover the ensuing onside kick, and three snaps later the Bearkats were back in the end zone on a 41-yard scoring toss from Eggemeyer to Oscar Guiterrez, which put the Bulldogs in a 36-6 hole with 8:13 remaining in the second quarter.
“The first quarter we played pretty good football, but the second quarter we didn’t play very good,” Williams said. “We gave up the one touchdown and then turned around and gave up an onside kick. All of the sudden we’re down 30 and it went downhill from there.”
On the third play of the Bulldogs’ ensuing possession, Rowdy McClain was intercepted by Ramirez, who returned the pick 42 yards for a touchdown that increased Garden City’s lead to 44-6 with 6:46 left in the second.
A 14-yard pass from McClain to Jacob King, Zephyr’s only completion of the game, set the Bulldogs up with a second-and-1 at the Garden City 33. On three consecutive rushing attempts, Zephyr failed to pick up the necessary 1 yard to move the chains, and the ball reverted back to the Bearkats.
Garden City tacked on its final points with 3:27 to go on a 5-yard touchdown carry by Isaac Gutierrez, and Oscar Gutierrez booted the two-point kick to bring the mercy rule into play.
Zephyr’s bid at extending the game past halftime ended when the Bulldogs fumbled their very next snap, and Garden City pounced on the ball with 3:16 remaining.
“Some things were good today and some things weren’t good,” Williams said. “Our offensive line blocked well at times. Defensively, we’ve been getting beat on the pass so we changed up the defense and we still got beat on the pass today. We still have a long way to go.”
The Bulldogs (0-1) will host Sterling City (1-0) — a 38-24 winner over Blackwell in Week 1 — at 7:30 p.m. Friday.