May 29, 2024

Grizzlies take a bite out of Buffs’ playoff hopes

Game Highlights

Game Stats

Garden City, Kan ( City Head Coach Brian Hill believed he fixed what ailed his defense in a 62-14 loss at Hutch in week 7. And in fact he tightened the bolts, but when the screws are stripped, there’s not much you can do after that. 

Despite a resilient effort from his defense, Hill watched helplessly as Wichita Northwest running back Keshaun McGaugh notched his sixth career 100-yd rushing game-netting 124 on 27 carries; one of those going for six, as the Grizzlies eliminated the Buffaloes from postseason play with a 35-14 victory Friday night at Buffalo Stadium. 

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from these guys,” Hill said after the game. “They gave me everything they had, and I’m proud of them.”

Everything is right, and through three quarters, the Buffaloes were within striking distance-trailing 21-14, with a first-and-goal at the 7-yard line and 15 minutes on the clock. That’s when those tightened bolts started to come undone.

After a two-yard gain on first down moved it to the five, sophomore quarterback Jesse Nunez, who punched his ticket to two, emphatic rushing touchdowns on the night, took the shotgun snap and faked it to Koster. As he spun around and rolled right, he saw that Brendan Johnson didn’t bite on the fake.  He tried to outrun him to the sideline, but the all-state honorable mention tripped up the young signal caller for a 14-yard loss back to the 19.

“That plays on me,” Hill said. “We have it at the five; we need to just run the ball. That’s not his fault. That’s all on me.”

On third-and-goal, Nunez forced a pass to Peyton Hill in double coverage that was almost intercepted by Romello Cotman. (Brian) Hill didn’t hesitate and sent kicker Zeke Herrera out to cut into the lead with a field goal. But the sophomore’s 36-yard attempt sailed wide left, giving the ball back to Northwest (7-1, 2-0) at their own 20.

“We have to punch it in that situation,” Hill said. “But the play call was on my shoulders.”

What ensued: a 10-play, 80-yard drive that saw the Grizzlies slice through the deflated Garden City defense. The end result was a two-yard plunge by Karol Williams out of the wildcat that gave the Grizzlies a comfortable 28-14 lead with 7:58 to play.

Northwest added a late, 35-yard touchdown scamper by backup tailback Jahlyl Rounds that put the finishing touches on another defensive masterpiece for Steve Martin’s team.

“We circled this game on the calendar as soon as the schedule came out,” Martin said. “We had them beat last year, and they just made some great plays at the end.”

Martin got his revenge. And early on it looked like a runaway.

Following a three-and-out on the Buffaloes’ first possession, Northwest marched right down the field-moving the ball from their own 19 to the Garden City 45. Facing a second-and-9 from there, Grizzlies quarterback K’Veion Richard dropped back and fired a pellet to Williams, who glided past Alex Espinosa and Patrick Clifford for the game’s first score. It was the sophomore’s finest throw of the night.

Garden City (3-5, 0-2) was able to move ball the next time they had it-driving 37 yards in 10 plays to the Northwest 31. But on fourth-and-9, Nunez’s heave down the middle for Caleb Tramp fell incomplete, and the Grizzlies took over.

13 plays later, Northwest was back in the end zone, this time on the heels of McGaugh’s six-yard dash to pay dirt. The senior’s 16th rushing touchdown of the season gave the Grizzlies a 14-0 advantage on the final play of the first quarter.

That might have been the jolt that awoke the Garden City offense. In weeks past, Nunez has deferred to running back Jared Koster. But on a night where the junior had only 37 yards rushing on 10 carries, it was the rookie quarterback taking charge.

The sophomore toted the ball three times for 50 yards on Garden City’s next possession-his last carry a 31-yard sprint to the end zone for a touchdown. Herrera, who made 26 straight extra points, hit the right upright, and the Buffaloes trailed 14-6 with 8:41 left in the first half.

Not to be outdone, Martin’s team responded with an impressive eight-play, 78-yard drive that was capped when Rounds broke containment and raced 26 yards for the score. Adam Travis’s extra point gave the Grizzlies a 21-6 edge.

But one thing fans have learned during Hill’s five seasons on the Garden City sidelines: his teams can take a punch, but boy do they know how to get up before the standing 8-count.

Using a decisive ground attack with Nunez and Koster, the Buffaloes marched right through a Grizzlies’ defense that had only allowed two previous opponents to surpass 200 total yards. It only took them five plays, and on second-and-7 from the Northwest 37, Nunez raced up the right sideline and took it inside the five. It appeared the sophomore was going to be knocked out of bounds, but he spun back left, reached the ball out and clipped the pylon-polishing off his most spectacular run of the year. He finished the drive off when he found Peyton Hill on a two-yard slant on the two-point conversion-pulling Garden City to within 21-14 with 4:23 to play in the second quarter.

After scoring on their first three possessions, the Grizzlies were stonewalled on three plays on their fourth. But the Buffaloes handed it right back when a promising march deep into Northwest territory fizzled out when Nunez coughed up the football and Cotman recovered for the Grizzlies.  

Northwest now had a chance to stretch the lead before halftime. But after two long runs were wiped out because of back-to-back penalties, Richard made his only mistake of the night when Akil Love intercepted an errant pass and returned it 23 yards to the plus-47.  However, any hope of tying score before the intermission was dashed when Nunez was picked off by Tyreec Washington.

Nunez finised the night 9-of-20 through the air for 109 yards and an interception. He also ran it 25 times for a season-high 120 yards and two scores. Tramp, who was targeted eight times, caught only three passes for 43 yards. Espinosa added two catches for 27.

On the opposing side-Richard finished up 8-of-18 for 156 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He toted the ball nine times for 49 yards. Rounds ran for a season-best 112 yards on 10 carries and punched it in twice while Williams hauled in four balls for 76 yards and a score.    

Notes: With Garden City’s loss and Hutchinson’s 48-28 victory over Dodge City, both the Buffaloes and Demons were officially eliminated from the playoffs…This will be the Buffaloes’ first losing season under Hill…Wichita Northwest has now won three straight games in Garden City…The Grizzlies punched their ticket to a 14th consecutive playoff berth…Koster was held under 100 yards rushing for only the third time this season (Garden City is 1-2 in those games)…senior quarterback Derek Hill missed the game after having emergency surgery in Denver on Thursday; he was back on the sidelines Friday night taking in senior-night festivities…His brother Peyton wore his No. 1 jersey to pay tribute…Garden City became just the third team this season to total 200 yards or more of offense against Northwest (they had 286)…Garden City surrendered a touchdown on their opponent’s opening drive for the seventh time in eight games

Next up: Garden City at Dodge City-Friday, October 31-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kickoff

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