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Liberal, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-Liberal did something Friday night that they hadn’t done in nearly three weeks: reach the end zone.
Juan Rodriguez returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a score, and the Redskin fans finally had something to cheer about.
But that euphoria lasted only a quantum second; then reality set in, and the Buffaloes went to work.
Garden City’s powerful ground game eventually grinded any Liberal momentum to a screeching halt, rushing for 334 yards on 46 carries as the Buffaloes stormed back with 42 unanswered points to beat Liberal for the eighth straight time 42-6 at Redskins field.
“Obviously we wanted to win this game,” Buffaloes Coach Brian Hill said afterwards. “But my main concern was getting my guys out of here healthy.”
For the most part, mission accomplished.
Despite a scare that saw Peyton Hill fall to the ground in pain during the third quarter (Hill missed one series because of an injured right shin before returning to the game), the Buffaloes escaped a downright physical affair.
And it was Hill that saved the brown and white early from a cataclysmic disaster.
Trailing 6-0, the Buffaloes were punting from their 28 when Derek Cook’s snap sailed over Hill’s head and bounced inside the 5-yard line. Instead of trying to pick the ball up and run with it, the junior punter improvised, scooping up the loose pigskin; sliding to his right before getting off a wobbly but effective kick.
Liberal sophomore Misael Monarrez tracked the ball at the Buffalo 40, but instead of getting away from the short kick, he tried to field it. The ball bounced off his hands, and Garden City recovered at their own 33.
And even though they didn’t score off of the turnover, the complexity of the game had shifted like a tidal wave.
“That was just a heady play by Peyton,” Hill said. “He made one heck of an effort.”
That effort was the difference between trailing by two touchdowns and giving his team a pulse.
Later in the first, Garden City (5-0, 3-0) stopped Liberal (1-4, 0-3) dead in their tracks on a fourth-and-2 at their own 44. Defensive lineman Benny Hernandez filled the hole and slammed Redskins’ quarterback Jared Hasik to the ground one yard shy of a first down.
“This defense gets better each week,” Hill said. “It’s a night and day difference from last week.”
That unit held Liberal to just 57 total yards in the first 24 minutes.
That stop finally fueled the offense, and quarterback Jesse Nunez responded by engineering a seven-play, 45-yard scoring drive that was capped off with the junior’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Clifford on fourth-and-7. Anthony Flores, filling in for the injured Zeke Herrera, booted through the extra point, and the Buffaloes had the lead for good 7-6.
If Hill’s game-saving punt in the opening stanza saved the game; Garden City’s offensive antics in the second quarter put it on ice.
In a 12-minute stretch, the Buffaloes scored 21 points, beginning with Nunez’s 32-yard touchdown run and followed up by Jared Koster’s 16-yard scoring dance and Ethan Yardley’s sensational 31-yard dash to the end zone that was setup by Garrett Doll’s first pick of the season.
Garden City led 28-6 at the break.
“I’m really proud of these kids,” Hill explained. “I don’t really care about the score, or how bad we beat them. With all the work that these kids have put in, it doesn’t matter if it’s one point or 35 points. A win is a win.”
In the second half, Liberal’s offense mustered just 48 yards, while the Buffaloes put the finishing touches on their first 5-0 start in 15 years. Koster’s four-yard touchdown run finished off a nine-play, 60-yard drive in the third that gave the Buffaloes a 35-6 edge.
Then in the final quarter, (Peyton) Hill was back on the field, scoring the final touchdown of the night: a one-yard dive that made it 42-6.
“We’re building something here,” Hill said. “We have a ways to go, but we’re getting there.”
The Buffaloes’ swarming defense limited the Redskins to 13 possessions; only three of them crossed the 50-yard line. They also forced three turnovers.
Offensively, Nunez finished 7-of-14 passing for 69 yards, one touchdown and one pick, which happened in the second half when the junior forced a pass down the middle of the field that Cade Hinkle intercepted. He also rushed it 15 times for 109 yards and a touchdown.
Koster added 86 yards on 20 carries and two scores. Yardley toted the rock three times for 74 yards and a touchdown. (Peyton) Hill had five rushes for 64 and a score, while Clifford caught two passes for 28 yards and a touchdown.
For Liberal, Hasik was just 4-of-16 for 39 yards and an interception. He was sacked twice. Payton Emery rushed for a team-high 30 yards on 11 carries.
Notes: Liberal’s touchdown on the opening kickoff not only ended an eight-quarter scoreless streak but a first quarter one at that; prior to the week-five showdown, the Redskins had been outscored 45-0 in the opening frame in their first four games…Garden City has now won 25 out of their last 26 contests when they score 30 or more points…The Buffaloes improved to 21-25-1 all-time at Liberal…Koster is now 96 yards from passing Broderick Smith as the all-time leading rusher in school history….With his seven tackles, Nalen Rincones passed Bubba Caine for fourth on the school’s all-time tackle list…Garden City has now outscored their opponents 77-14 in the second quarter this year…It’s the Buffaloes fourth straight win at Redskins field…In their last three games, Garden City has forced nine turnovers (they’re plus-4)
Next up: Garden City vs. Wichita East-Friday, October 9-6 p.m. kpreps; 6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kickoff on 99.9 FM ESPN; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and tuneinradio app: KWKR