Buffaloes season ends in playoff opener

 

Topeka, KS-Even in defeat, Garden City Head Coach Brian Hill cracked a pretty big smile.

It’s almost as if he and his team had cracked a ubiquitous code despite their season coming to a screeching halt. In the end though, it was Topeka Washburn Rural doing something they had only done two previous times in the past 26 years: win a playoff game.

Jordan White threw for 214 yards and two touchdowns while adding a 130 on the ground as the Junior Blues pushed past the Buffaloes 21-7 in the opening round of the 6A playoffs Friday night at Bowen-Glaze Stadium. The victory sets up a showdown with Centennial-rival Topeka next week, who overcame a 27-9 halftime deficit to beat Hutchinson, 45-43.

“I’m so proud of the these guys,” Hill said. “They showed a lot of fight and character tonight. There are a lot of people that wouldn’t go to work if they were dealing with what these kids were. And they did because they work for one another.”

While the future definitely looks bright for the veteran head coach, he will be left this offseason wondering what could have been.

Four times Garden City reached the red zone, coming away with only seven points. They outgained Topeka Washburn Rural (7-2, 6-2) 409-356 and ran 35 more plays (82-47). But never did the end zone seem so far.

After the Junior Blues took a 7-0 lead behind White’s seven-yard scamper to pay dirt, the Buffaloes put together a promising 13-play drive. They converted two fourth downs before reaching the Topeka Washburn Rural. But on fourth-and-7, linebacker Drake McCall sacked Carlos Acosta, ending the scoring threat.

“I sound like a broken record but our three problems in each game have been penalties, turnovers and blown assignments. And it happened again tonight.”

Garden City (2-7, 2-2) managed to tie the score early in the second as Reece Morss powered in from a yard out, putting the finishing touches on an eight-play, 77-yard drive that also included Acosta’s dazzling 35-yard sprint down the right sidelines.

“The opportunities were there for us all night,” Hill said. We just couldn’t finish drives.”

The Junior Blues, who made a habit of big comebacks during the regular season, responded the next time they touched the ball. White connected with Preston Williams three times for 33 yards, the final three of those came on a quick out where the senior receiver slipped free of Christian Reyes in the end zone for a 14-7 advantage with 5:48 remaining in the first half.

“I thought our defense, for the most part, played really well,” Hill said. “We gave up a couple of big plays that hurt us.”

But the story of this game was long drives resulting in no points, which happened to Garden City again late in the first half. They moved it 10 plays 33 yards to the Junior Blues’ 40-yard line. But on fourth-and-5, Acosta forced an out route to Kaleb Lapointe that Shawn Marquis intercepted. Moments later, White hit Williams for a 65-yard score, and it was 21-7.

“These guys gave me everything they had,” Hill said. “We felt like this was the best week of practice that we had in a long time.”

A stalemate broke out in the second half, with Garden City racking up 202 total yards over the final 24 minutes with zero points to show for it. There was the 14-play drive that took up nearly the entire third quarter that ended with a two-yard loss on fourth down. Then, with just over six minutes to play, the Buffaloes had just converted a fourth-and-14 when Acosta hit Lapointe in stride for 27 yards. But three straight incompletions from the Topeka Washburn Rural 29 ended the drive.

“When you get to that part of the field, you have to finish,” Hill said. “We felt like we had a really good game plan coming in. We adjusted a few things the last couple of weeks to start throwing the ball more. And I thought Carlos did a really good job, and the offensive line gave him a pretty good pocket all night.”

The most memorable play of the night came with the Buffaloes facing another fourth down late in the final period. Acosta reversed field twice, then threw back across his body where safety Joey Blakely tipped the pass up in air before Reyes hauled it in for a 12-yard gain. The excitement though was soon dashed when Reyes came up short on a fourth down reception four plays later, turning the ball back over to the Junior Blues while wiping away any comeback bid.

Acosta finished the night 24-43 for 264 yards and two picks for Garden City, who lost in the first round for the first time since 2010. Reyes caught a career-best 10 balls for 104 yards, and Lapointe added eight receptions for 116.

White was 9-of-15 throwing with two touchdowns for Topeka Washburn Rural, who gave Head Coach Steve Buhler his 150th career win. Williams had five receptions for 110 and two scores, and Cortez Sanders caught four balls for 104.


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