’Dogs fall to Tigers in opener: Gering’s Ekart says team making strides despite 25-14 loss
     2015-09-03      By Philip Eckerberg   
Photo by Nathan Flowers/Special to the Gering Citizen - Gering Bulldogs wide receiver Brent Barge looks for daylight against the Hastings Tigers last Friday night at Memorial Stadium. Barge had 112 all-purpose yards, making his dent on kick returns. 
Four sacks and a at times stingy defense weren’t enough as the Gering Bulldogs squandered several chances to score in a 25-14 loss to the Hastings Tigers last Friday night.

“You never really know what to expect first game out,” said Head Coach Todd Ekart, who was disappointed with the loss, but happy with his team’s effort. “I told the kids, let’s be competitive and let’s be in it in the fourth quarter and we were. I told them after the game from our first scrimmage to our Gatorade scrimmage to tonight I have seen improvement. We keep improving, and we’ve just got to make another step next week, and keep building on this.”

From the start, things looked promising as Bulldogs senior Brent Barge returned the opening kickoff and ran the ball to the Gering 41 yard line.

In the Bulldogs’ first offensive series, senior running back Deion Contreras picked up a 10-yard chunk, taking the ball to the Hastings 49 for a first down. Contreras ran two more times before senior QB Austin Hoffman found Barge on a slant, picking up another first down, and moving the ball to the 34. Hoffman hit target junior Dalton Scott moving Gering to the 29. Then, Gering’s drive stalled as it gave up possession on a fourth down incomplete pass.

The Tigers moved the ball down field, where senior Sonny Salazar sacked Hastings QB Vinny Schmidt at the Gering 13-yard line. In the next play, senior Antonio Murrillo intercepted the ball for the Dawgs at the Gering 15-yard line. A Hastings’ face mask penalty then moved the ball to the 30. After two short runs, Hoffman again connected with Barge for a first down, moving the ball to Gering’s 43.

Stalling yet again, junior Skylar Mueller punted the ball for Gering. The Tigers took over at their own 27. The Bulldogs held Hastings to a short series, after Bulldog sophomore Nick Watkins notched a QB sack. Hastings then punted after an incomplete pass.

Scott returned the punt to the Gering 43. Hoffman passed to senior Jacob Pieper, moving the ball to the Hastings 36, at the end of the first quarter. Gering’s try on fourth down failed, with Hoffman off the mark, and the Tigers took over on downs.

Gering’s defense stiffened as Hastings went nowhere, and the Bulldogs took over on their own 10-yard line. Gering then turned the ball over on a fumble at the 10-yard line handing Hastings a favor with great field position. The Dawgs’ defense stepped up again, as sophomore Wade Blue continued to sack the Hastings QB, dropping them back to the 19. Hastings’ offense sputtered, as a fourth down try was snuffed by another Gering sack.
A quick pass from Hoffman to Barge gave Gering a first down, but Hastings turned up the heat on defense, stopping a few run attempts and sacking Hoffman. The Tigers ran the ball to the Gering 37. Two costly penalties by Gering – one for illegal participation and the other for encroachment – gave the Tigers the boost they needed. Hastings punched into the end zone for its first TD with 3:18 to go in the half. Bryan Menke’s PAT put Hastings up, 7-0.
On the ensuing kick return, Barge gave Gering good field position on its own 43-yard line. The Bulldogs tried to pass, but Hoffman was intercepted and the Tigers ran the ball back to the Gering 42. The Tigers punched into the end zone for a second time with 1:10 left in the half. The Dawgs special teams stepped up as Gering sophomore Jacob Rocheleau blocked, denying the extra point. The Tigers led 13-0 at the half.

Gering had very little time left in the half and desperately needed a big play to get back in the game. The Dawgs’ prayers were answered when Scott returned the kickoff to the Hastings 11-yard line. A couple of plays later Contreras shot through Hastings’ defense from the 12 yards out with 26 seconds left in the half. Chris Bartow’s PAT was good, making the score 13-7.

Hastings took the kickoff to start the second half, making it only as far as the 19-yard line. The Tigers relied on their ground game and drove to the Gering 11-yard line. A stingy Dawgs’ defense delivered another QB sack by Contreras. Hastings failed on a field-goal try, and Gering took over on its 20.
A false start penalty backed the Bulldogs up to their 15. On second down, Hoffman scrambled on a broken pass play moving the ball to the 31. The Bulldogs drive ended at about midfield. The Tigers returned Mueller’s punt to the Hastings 37. A personal foul by Gering tacked on more yardage. Hastings punted after lost yardage on a fumble. Gering started at its own 13. Stopped again, the Bulldogs punted and the Tigers ended up at Gering’s 46.
Hastings took eight plays and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Gering, to make it in to the end zone a third time with 2:29 to go in the third quarter. The Tigers missed the PAT, but extended its lead to 19-7.

Hastings short kick by Mainor Banegas made it to Salazar, who ran it to the Gering 37. On the first play of the series, Barge ran to the Hastings 49. Hoffman then dumped off a quick pass to Barge who moved the ball to the 42, and into Hastings territory. Gering let the opportunity go, and the Tigers took over on downs. Three plays later, Hastings found the end zone a fourth time with 11:53 left in the game. The Dawgs’ defense stopped a two-point conversion, leaving the score at 25-7.

Barge returned the ensuing kickoff, giving the Bulldogs a good start at their own 34. A pass to Bartow and a run by Hoffman earned a first down, but penalties and incompletes passes stymied as Gering squandered yet another offensive series. Hastings fair caught Gering’s punt at the Tigers’ 22.

Hastings was again heading toward the end zone, but a false start penalty drove the Tigers back, and they eventually were forced to punt. Hastings punter bobbled the ball, and Gering was given new life on its own 46. Gering put together a solid drive for a scoring opportunity ending up at the 1-yard line. But after knocking at the door, Gering could only muster a field-goal attempt. The try by Gering’s Bartow was knocked away, and Hastings took over on downs.
Hastings took over on their 20, keeping the game on the ground to eat up time. The Tigers advanced the ball to midfield, but penalties combined with ground losses forced them into a fourth down situation at their 43.

Gering blocked Hastings punt, and sophomore Julian Corona pounced on it. An unsportsmanlike and penalties put the ball at the Hastings 5-yard line.

Junior Tyler Pszanka took over the signal calling for Gering. After four plays, Pszanka sneaked in from 2-yard line to give Gering a second TD. Bartow’s PAT made the score, 25-14, with 7 seconds left in the game.

The Bulldogs on-sided, but Hastings recovered it, taking a knee to run out the clock, leaving the score at 25-14. The Bulldogs losing streak extends to 14 games; the last win for Gering was on Oct. 4, 2013.

The 0-1 Bulldogs will face the Chadron Cardinals at home tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. The Cardinals are also 0-1 on the season after taking a sound 41-7 beating at the hands of Sidney, in its home opener.

Hastings 0-13-6-6 — 25
Gering 0-7-0-7 — 14

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