KENESAW — Pleasanton’s Kessler Dixon produced three rushing touchdowns in a five-minute span early in the fourth quarter to propel the Bulldogs past Kenesaw 27-14 Wednesday night in the second round of the Class D-2 state football playoffs.
With the No. 7-rated (Omaha World-Herald) Blue Devils leading 14-7, Dixon scored on runs of 7, 56 and 7 yards to help move Pleasanton (8-2) into next Tuesday’s quarterfinal round against Twin Loup. The 6-foot-2, 177-pound senior running back finished with 117 yards rushing on 22 attempts and also had two receptions for 34 yards.
The Bulldogs scored their 27 points in a 7 1/2-minute flurry after Kenesaw (8-2) had shut them out for the first 33:38 of the game on a cold and windy night. Pleasanton finished with 280 total yards, including 130 yards on the ground.
“Kessler Dixon did an amazing job running the ball tonight,” said Pleasanton coach Ricci Westland, whose team beat Kenesaw 54-42 back on Sept. 13. “We had to fix some things — we tried that early in the first half, but our blocking scheme wasn’t quite correct. We fixed that at halftime and the kids came out and (Dixon) exploited one long run and we had some nice traps inside.
“We’re not a running team, but we did a great job of running the ball tonight.”
After starting out 1 of 10 passing, Pleasanton found the mark through the air in the second half. Quarterback Jakson Keaschall completed 7 of 20 attempts for 129 yards and Treven Wendt added a 21-yard completion on an option pass.
The Bulldogs finally got on the scoreboard when Tyce Westland hauled in a pass from Keaschall along the sideline, shook off a would-be tackler at the Kenesaw 25-yard line and sprinted into the end zone for a 58-yard TD. Grady Chandler’s point-after kick gave Pleasanton a 7-6 lead with 2:22 remaining in the third quarter.
“That kind of got a spark lit,” Coach Westland said. “Then, the boys just started hammering away on defense.”
Kenesaw’s defense was in complete control in the first half. The Blue Devils made three fourth-down stops and limited Pleasanton to 78 total yards and led 6-0 on Tyson Denkert’s 65-yard punt return for a TD with 4:24 left before intermission.
“It was a stalemate — a game of just a few yards here and there and then you’re punting,” Kenesaw coach Craig Schnitzler said. “After we got that big punt return for a score, I thought to myself that it would be great if we could maybe win 6-0, but I also knew it was going to take more than that.
“I don’t think we ran out of gas. We just made some mistakes in the second half that were costly.”
After falling behind 7-6, the Blue Devils quickly answered when Trey Kennedy’s key block on the edge sprung Denkert free on a quarterback keeper and he raced down the sideline on a 51-yard TD run. Denkert’s two-point conversion run put Kenesaw back in front 14-7 with 1:16 to play in the third quarter.
However, after falling behind 14-13 early in the fourth, Kenesaw was held without points in its final four possessions. Denkert rushed 41 times for 185 yards, but the Blue Devils were just 1 of 9 passing for 28 yards, including a fourth-quarter interception by Pleasanton’s Keaschall.
“We just could never really get anything established and neither could they for most of the game and then they found a few series there were they got rolling on some trap plays,” Schnitzler said. “We didn’t do a very good job of handling the trap and they got a couple of big scoring runs. That was kind of the difference in the game.”
Kenesaw’s final drive ended at the Pleasanton 19 as time expired.
“The kids fought hard and did all they could do,” said Schnitzler, whose team also suffered a blocked punt that set up the Bulldogs’ final score. “It just wasn’t enough tonight. We put ourselves in position to win the ballgame, but Pleasanton just made more plays in that fourth quarter.”