February 22, 2024

Exhale; Buffs win thriller in Great Bend

Final Highlights: GCHS vs. Great Bend

Game Stats: GCHS vs. Great Bend

Great Bend, Kan (westernkansasnews.com)-The game was probably too close for comfort for Garden City Coach Brian Hill. But regardless, his team found a way to avoid the unthinkable: an 0-3 start. 

Jared Koster hit the century mark on the ground for a second straight week, and the Buffalo defense forced four turnovers en route to a 28-21 heart-stopping victory Friday night at Memorial Stadium. 

“This one definitely wasn’t easy,” a relieved Hill said after the game. “But we’ll take it; a WAC game on the road against Great Bend is never easy.”

In a match up that resembled last year’s Panther victory at Buffalo Stadium, Garden City (1-2) flipped the script. But it didn’t start out pretty. On Great Bend’s first offensive play from scrimmage, Trent Uselton took a handoff, wiggled free and stampeded 73 yards for the game’s first touchdown. 

Following that-it looked like things might get out of hand when Caleb Tramp fumbled a lateral from Derek Hill on the Buffaloes second possession and the Panthers recovered. But the Great-Bend drive stalled and Nalen Rincones blocked Shade Wondra’s fourth-down punt, and Garden City had the ball at midfield. 

“Nalen was big for us a again tonight,” Hill said. “The kid’s unbelievable.”

The junior added 10 stops on defense, his third straight double-digit tackle performance of the season. 

After squandering a scoring chance following the blocked kick, the Buffaloes got it back late in the first when Panthers running back Ramses Lopez coughed up the football and Dylan Darter recovered. Six plays later, Jesse Nunez’s one-yard plunge tied the game 7-7 with 11:09 remaining in the first half. 

Garden City grabbed the lead for the first time midway through the second frame when Lopez fumbled for a second time and the Buffs recovered at the Great Bend 19. After three plays netted nine yards, Hill’s team was staring at a fourth-and-1 at the 10. Nunez called his own number-strolled around right end, and found the end zone-putting the Buffaloes in front 14-7. 

Just minutes later, the Buffaloes were marching down the field again. And the drive seemed promising when Hill, who was reinserted back into the game at quarterback, hit Koster for a 20-yard gain on third-and-15 from the Panthers’ 34. But on the very next play, Hill tried to force a pass in the end zone for Tramp that was intercepted by Brady Michel and returned 64 yards to the Garden City 35. Two plays later, Wondra went up top to a wide-open Bryce Lytle, who burned past Patrick Clifford for the game-tying score with 30 seconds to go in the second. 

“We expected a tough game, and we got one,” Hill said. “We just have to clean up the mistakes.”

Garden City turned the ball over four more times Friday night-making it 12 giveaways in the first three games of the season. 

In the second half, the Buffaloes became the aggressor-turning two more Panther turnovers into points. The first was arguably the most spectacular play of the game. Facing a third-and-17 from their own 45, Hill played it safe and called a run play for Koster. But the junior, who looked to be boxed up near the right sideline, reversed field, broke four tackles and raced up the left-side numbers for a 55-yard go-ahead touchdown. 

“He (Jared) was spectacular,” Hill said. “It carried over from last week. I thought the offensive line was great. They (Great Bend) just play such an unusual front, and we found some success.”

On Great Bend’s next possession, Clifford intercepted Wondra on a jump ball, and the Buffaloes had it back at the Panthers’ 25. Five plays later, the junior back was in the end zone again-this time from seven yards out-giving the Buffaloes a 28-14 cushion with 5:42 to play in the third. 

The Buffaloes had a chance to put the hammer down when Rincones jarred the ball out of Lopez’s hands on the Panthers’ next series. But a couple of plays later, Nunez handed it right back when he was stripped at the Great Bend 17. That one turnover changed the complexity of the game. 

Following the takeaway, Great Bend drove 83 yards in nine plays-using up four minutes of the third quarter clock-punctuating it with Wondra’s one-yard score on fourth-and-goal. 

Clinging to a seven-point lead with under three minutes to play, (Brian) Hill hoped to salt the game away with a couple of first downs. And when Connor Schultz caught a screen pass from (Derek) Hill, it looked like Garden City would escape with their second straight win at Memorial Stadium. But as Schultz reached for the first down, the ball squirted free and Ty Jager recovered for Great Bend. 

“I couldn’t tell if the ball hit the ground or not,” Hill said. “But regardless, we have to protect the football in that situation.”

With no timeouts and down a touchdown with one minute left, Great bend was looking at a fourth-and-13 from the Garden City 48. Wondra dropped back, eluded the rush and tossed a pop fly down the near-side numbers. Lytle, who was blanketed by Darter, dove and made a sensational catch at the Buffalo 23. But the threat ended four plays later, when this time, Wondra’s fourth-down pass sailed wide of his intended target Nick Gerdes. 

“We had to adjust on the fly to their offensive looks,” Hill said. “They came out with three backs. It’s something we didn’t see on film all week. Coach (Dominique) Dingle was making adjustments on the sideline. But it worked out.”

The defense held the Panthers under 300 total yards up until that final drive. They had four takeaways and sacked Wondra three times. 

Koster finished the night with 186 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Nunez added 7 rushes for -12 yards but scored twice. He was also 4-of-6 through the air for 27 yards. Hill finished 9-of-16 for 81 yards and an interception. 

Tramp caught a season-low two passes, although he was targeted seven times. Alex Espinosa hauled in a season-high four balls for 32 yards. 

On the other side-Wondra was just 7-of-17, for 120 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Uselton carried the ball 12 times for 108 yards and a score, but was seldom used in the second half after leaving the game with an apparent leg injury. 

Notes: With the victory, Brian Hill improved to 2-3 against Great Bend…Garden City has now allowed 300 or more total yards in nine straight games dating back to last season…With Wondra’s one-yard touchdown run, the Buffalo defense has now surrendered seven red-zone touchdowns in eight attempts…The Buffaloes avoided their first 0-3 start since 2003…Garden City has started 0-3 11 times in program history and only once did they qualify for the playoffs (1981-lost in the first round to Derby)…Great Bend fell to 0-3 for the first time since 1999

Next up: Garden City (1-2) vs. Hays (3-0)-Friday, September 26-6 p.m. kpreps; 6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m kick on KWKR 99.9 FM; kwkrmobile.com and mobile app: KWKR

Other Scores

Wichita Heights 26, Dodge City 21

Derby 35, Mill Valley 14

Wichita Northwest 53, Wichita North 7

Hays 42, Liberal 28

Salina Central 29, Maize 28

#3 Topeka 62, Topeka Highland Park 12

Holcomb 17, Ulysses 14 (OT)

Colby 27, Hugoton 12

Scott City 65, Goodland 12

Meade 24, Southwestern Heights 21

Hooker (Okla) 47, Syracuse 0

Lakin 14, Elkhart 12

Douglass 48, Medicine Lodge 7

Cimarron 60, Sublette 7

Kiowa County 50, Ashland 34

Spearville 64, Bucklin 18

Ness City 72, Otis-Bison 22

Wichita Life Prep 52, Deerfield 31

South Gray 46, Fowler 26

Ingalls 50, Minneola 38