KENESAW — Pleasanton’s pass-heavy offense has played an instrumental role in the program’s turnaround this season.
But when the Bulldogs completed just 5 of 17 passes in the first half Wednesday night against Kenesaw, they had to adjust their approach.
In the second half, the Bulldogs fed running back Kessler Dixon, who had three touchdowns in a six-carry span, to prevail 27-14 over the Blue Devils in the second round of the Class D2 playoffs in Kenesaw.
“Kessler Dixon did an amazing job running the ball tonight,” Pleasanton coach Ricci Westland said. “We tried that early in the first half, but the blocking scheme wasn’t quite correct. We fixed that at halftime, and he exploited them on nice runs inside with those traps.”
The victory pushes the seventh-seeded Bulldogs (8-2) into the quarterfinals against 11th-seeded Twin Loup (6-4), which will be played Tuesday in Pleasanton. The second-seeded Blue Devils ended their season with an 8-2 record, with both of their losses coming at the hands of the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs are in the midst of their best season since 2011 when they had a 9-1 record with their lone loss coming to Medicine Valley in the second round of the playoffs.
“We made some runs in 2007 and ’09, but those kids are gone,” Westland said. “These seniors’ legacy — we will see how they write the end of their story here. They deserve it. We went 2-6 last year. It wasn’t a good year. We were already lifting weights right now getting ready for this year. We were so upset we didn’t finish the year like we wanted to. That’s kind of where it started. With that, the brotherhood and culture came together.”
Neither team sustained drives in the first half.
The lone scoring play came on a punt return. With less than five minutes left in the first half, Jakson Keaschall booted a 53-yard punt to the Kenesaw 15. Kenesaw’s Tyson Denkert originally let the ball bounce and roll down the field. But once he realized he had time for a return, he scooped up the ball and zig-zagged his way through a crowd of players in the middle of the field before finding a crease and bursting up the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown return.
The Bulldogs ruined Kenesaw’s shutout bid when Keaschall connected with a wide-open Tyce Westland, who sprinted past one defender and avoided an diving attempt by another to scurry into the end zone for a 58-yard score. Grady Chandler’s successful point after touchdown gave the Bulldogs the 7-6 edge with nearly two minutes left in the third quarter.
The Blue Devils regained the lead three plays later when Denkert scampered for a 51-yard touchdown.
The fourth quarter was one-sided. The Bulldogs scored 20 points and shutdown the Blue Devils, who’s offensive drives were hampered by penalties and poor snaps.
Dixon’s 6-yard touchdown run 13 seconds into the fourth quarter marked the go-ahead points for the Bulldogs. He also had scoring runs of 56 and seven yards in the quarter.
“That kind of gave us a spark,” said Westland on his son’s touchdown catch. “Then the boys just started hammering away there on defense.”
Pleasanton 27, Kenesaw 14
Scores by Quarter
Pleasanton (8-2)0 0 7 20 — 27
Kenesaw (8-2)0 6 8 0 — 14
K — Tyson Denkert 65 punt return (run failed)
P — Tyce Westland 58 pass from Jakson Keaschall (Grady Chandler kick)
K — Denkert 51 run (Denkert run)
P — Kessler Dixon 6 run (kick failed)
P — Dixon 56 run (Dixon run)
P — Dixon 7 run (run failed)
RUSHING — P: Kessler Dixon 22-118, Jakson Keaschall 9-11, Treven Wendt 3-8, Tyce Westland 1-1. K — Tyson Denkert 41-183, Trey Kennedy 7-53.
PASSING — P: Jakson Keaschall 7-20-0 128 yards, Treven Wendt 1-2-0 21 yards. K: Tyson Denkert 1-9-1 28 yards.
RECEIVING — P: Tyce Westland 2-72, Brady Klein 2-43, Kessler Dixon 2-33, Treven Wendt 2-1. K — Trey Kennedy 1-28.