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Garden City, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-When Garden City Coach Brian Hill looks back on his team’s 2015 season, he’ll surely remember a fourth-and-goal play that, for all intense purposes, kept his squad’s perfect record in order.
Hutchinson had marched 97 yards in 12 plays down to the Buffalo 1-yard line. It was a drive that ate up more than five minutes; saw the Salthawks pick up one of only two third-down conversions on the night and connect on one of just two pass completions over 48 minutes when Canyon Maldonado hit Trey Richards for 46 yards down to the Garden City 24. That’s when the defense got nasty.
“The effort and heart that those kids showed was outstanding,” Hill said afterwards. “After giving up so many big plays in last year’s game; to do what they did tonight, was incredible.”
Once Brody Smith rumbled down to the Buffalo 1, it appeared it was a mere formality that Hutchinson (5-2, 0-1) would punch it in; especially with the majority of their run calls going behind 6-foot-6, 360-pound right guard Josh Rivas. But Christian Coreas wasn’t having it.
On fourth-and-goal, the junior fought off Rivas, who already has an offer from Memphis on the table, and stonewalled Smith for no gain.
Talk about season defining.
“Our defense was extremely physical tonight,” Hill said. “All of this is a result of what we’ve done since June 1. It’s a collective effort.”
That defense forced three turnovers, while the ground game churned out 296 yards as Garden City beat Hutchinson for just the second time in 15 years 14-2 Friday night at Buffalo Stadium.
“Christian was unbelievable tonight as was Isaac Goytia,” Hill added. “What kept us going in this game was the second level of our defense.”
Twice Hutchinson marched the ball inside the Buffalo 5, and twice they were turned away with no points. The second threat fizzled out after a procedure penalty nullified Gabe Ragioza’s one-yard touchdown run. On the very next play, Maldonado’s pass fell off the fingertips of a wide-open Smith in the end zone, turning the ball over on downs.
“We always talk about our guys stepping up and making a play,” Hill said. “Well our defense rang the bell and answered the challenge tonight.”
While the defense was shining, the offense sputtered out of the gates. Garden City (7-0, 1-0) ran only eight plays in the game’s first 15 minutes; the last of those netted the Salthawks only points of the night when Lucas Dunbar tackled Jesse Nunez in the end zone for a safety.
That’s when Hutchinson had a chance to bury Garden City early; only to have a second straight drive end inside the Buffalo 5.
That was all the room Peyton Hill needed after that.
For most of the season, Hill has shined on special teams, flipping field position while his top-ranked defense smothered opponents. On Friday night, the junior utility man put the offense on his back and ran over a Hutch front seven that entering week seven was allowing just 193 yards per game.
Staring at a third-and-4 from their own 11 with less than five minutes to play in the second quarter, Garden City needed a spark. They got it when Hill took the handoff from Nunez, broke two tackles at the line of scrimmage and stampeded past a defense that was instructed to stack the box to try and slow down the vaunted Buffalo rushing attack. The end result was Hill’s longest touchdown run as a Buffalo: 89 yards that gave Garden City the lead for good 7-2.
“Petyon was great tonight,” (Brian) Hill said. “He was great on special teams, and he was big on offense.”
During the week, Salthawks Head Coach Ryan Cornelson mentioned that the key to the Garden City attack was their multiple moving parts. But surely he expected the Buffaloes to lean heavily on Jared Koster, who last week became the school’s all-time leading rusher. Instead it was Hill’s bruising running that had Hutch tacklers bouncing off the junior’s thigh pads like bugs on a car’s headlights.
When the night was finished, Hill had punished the Salthawks defense to the tune of 167 yards on 10 carries, which included one emphatic touchdown run.
Garden City then had a chance to take a two touchdown lead going into the locker room following Hill’s 22-yard run on second down and his 13-yard scamper on first down. But back-to-back holding calls ended the threat, and the Buffaloes took a five-point lead into the break.
“There are still things we have to be better at,” Hill mentioned referring to his team’s eight penalties for 79 yards. “It doesn’t get any easier.”
The Buffaloes extended the lead late in the third, thanks to an eight-play, 76-yard drive that included two big gainers.
On first-and-10 from their own 28, Nunez called his own number; ran left before reversing field for a 42 yard gain to the Salthawks’ 30. After penalties pushed Garden City back, it was Nunez firing a pellet to Jason Yi on fourth-and-8 for 17 yards. Two plays later, Nunez capped the march with a sensational five-yard scoring run where he steamrolled linebacker Colton Biehler en route to the end zone. Zeke Herrera’s extra point gave the Buffaloes a 14-2 cushion with 1:24 to play in the third.
The defense took it from there.
Dakota Brungardt thwarted two Hutchinson drives in the second half with backbreaking interceptions. Couple that with Smith’s fumble early in the fourth quarter that Jose Coreas gobbled up, and Garden City improved to 7-0 for the first time since 1991.
Nunez finished the night 3-of-8 passing for 42 yards while running for 116 on 21 carries and a touchdown. Koster carried the ball eight times for 15. Defensively, Zeke Herrera stole the show with 14 tackles, but it was (Christian) Coreas who made the biggest impact. Two of his nine tackles came on fourth-down stops.
Maldonado misfired on 12 of his 14 throws; although there were plenty of drops between Richards, Noel Cordero, Smith, Harris and tight end Austin Fletcher to go around. One of those came on Hutch’s opening drive, where Harris dropped a perfectly thrown ball from Maldonado that would have given the Salthawks a first down deep in Buffalo territory.
Notes: This was just Garden City’s second victory over Hutch since 2000 (Salthawks had won 11 out of the last 12 coming in)…Hutchinson had allowed only two 100-yard rushers all season-they allowed two in this game alone…Garden City’s defense has surrendered just 14 points in their last four games…Garden City handed the Salthawks only their fourth district loss in 15 years (39-4 since 2000)…Garden City has now beaten Hutchinson back-to-back times at Buffalo Stadium (First time that’s happened since the brown and white reeled off five straight home wins over the Salthawks from 1989-1999)…The Buffaloes won the game despite picking up a season-low 11 first downs…Garden City’s defense held Hutchinson to just 95 total yards and two first downs in the final 24 minutes…With the win, (Brian) Hill is now six victories from passing Ed Hall for third on the school’s all-time wins list
Next up: Garden City at No. 1 Wichita Northwest-Friday, October 23 6 p.m. kpreps; 6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM ESPN; westernkansasnews.com and tuneinradio app: KWKR