Buffs; Panthers duel for state berth

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Garden City (8-3) at Derby (10-1)-pregame 6:30 p.m.; kickoff 7 p.m.

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Derby, Kan (westernkansasnewscom)-At the beginning of fall camp, Buffs Coach Brian Hill posted four goals on the locker room wall: Win the Western Athletic Conference win a district title, make the playoffs and win a state championship. 

Minus the district title-you can check off all but one. 

That board hasn’t been taken down yet because the Buffs still have the final incentive in their sights: The school’s first state championship since 1999. 

Standing in their way: The No. 1 team in the state; a program that is on the brink of doing something that it’s only done once before–win a state title. 

Now in his eighth season, Panthers Coach Brandon Clark has resurrected a program that finished 0-9 the year he took over; 2005 is certainly a distant memory. Fast forward to 2013 and Derby comes in as hungry as any team in the state. After all, it was a two-point conversion that beat them in last year’s state semifinals. 

“These guys are very hungry,” Clark said. “But we’re just taking it one day at a time.”

That might be the case, but the numbers tell a different story; one of absolute frustration with blowing a late lead against Hutch 12 months ago. And guess what? They’re taking it out on the rest of 6A. 

The Buffaloes have had a much different path to round three. While Derby has blown out their first two playoff opponents by a combined 111-27, it’s taken Hill’s bunch two massive, second-half comebacks to land in the state semifinals. 

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Hill said. “We’re still playing; that’s all the counts.”

Last week-Garden City overcame a 14-point, second-half deficit to sting 2010 state champ Heights at home. The week before-they drove 70 yards in four plays to knock off defensive juggernaut Wichita Northwest 40-36. Now it appears destiny could land them in Topeka next week. But there’s no mistaking it, Derby is a much different animal than either one of their first two opponents. 

The Panthers feature one of the most athletic tight ends in the country. De’Andre Goolsby, who recently committed to the University of Florida, has snared 26 receptions for 424 yards and seven touchdowns. Those numbers don’t necessarily show just how dynamic a player this kid is.

“He’s fun to watch,” Hill said. “He can beat you in open space very easily. We have to watch him at all times, but not take our eyes of other guys. That’s what they force you into.”

Goolsby has the luxury of having Jeremy Dunham throwing him the football. After having transfer quarterbacks each of the past two years, the converted wide receiver finally gets his shot. 

As for the X factor in this game: How about mother nature. Game time temperatures expected to be in the upper 20’s. 

“We can’t let that effect us,” junior wide receiver Caleb Tramp said. “Both teams are playing in the same conditions.”

Let the best man win.