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Wichita, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-Garden City, and the entire region for that matter, learned one incontrovertible fact on Friday night: the Sunflower State has never seen anything quite like Wichita Northwest football.
The record books just happen to agree.
The Grizzlies ran a state-record 100 offensive plays, and broke the all-time mark for first downs in a single game with 34 as top-ranked Wichita Northwest stampeded their way to a 38-21 victory at Northwest Stadium.
“It’s time to move on,” Buffaloes Head Coach Brian Hill said afterwards. “There is nothing we can do about it now.”
And truth be told, once the Grizzlies got rolling, there wasn’t a whole lot anyone could do.
But Garden City did their best to tame the beast early.
Facing a third-and-seven from their own 40 on the third play from scrimmage, Jesse Nunez, who threw for a season-best 159 yards, found Quinton Lapointe on a slant and watched the sophomore outrace the Grizzlies secondary for a 60-yard touchdown. It was the first time in six weeks that the Buffaloes scored first, and they had a 7-0 lead 90 seconds into the contest.
“I thought we battled early in this game,” Hill said. Yes, we made some mistakes. But we did some good things tonight.”
Fans then got a taste of what was to come. On their opening drive, Wichita Northwest (8-0, 2-0) marched 17 plays from their own 20 to the Buffalo 8, converting a third down and two fourth downs before the drive fizzled out when Kevin Folsom’s pass to Martese Mullins was batted away by Dakota Brungardt. The incompletion might have given the ball back to the Buffaloes on a turnover on downs, but Steve Martin’s team had set the tone with one of the most impressive, non-scoring drives of the season.
“People don’t understand how close we were last season,” an inspired Martin said before the game. “A couple of things go our way down the stretch, and we’re playing for the state championship; not Hutch.”
After stopping the Buffaloes near midfield, the Grizzlies got the ball back at their own 20. On the first play of the second quarter, Alex Bott, who totaled 228 all-purpose yards on Friday, took the wildcat snap; sprinted left through a hole between the tackle and guard and found himself in the end zone on the heels of a 73-yard touchdown run. Jeremy Deckinger’s extra point was good, and Wichita Northwest had drawn even 7-7 with 11:49 to play in the half.
“I thought our kids kept their heads up despite some negative plays,” Hill said. “We never quit working.”
The Buffaloes response: a seven-play, 80-yard drive, which was aided by a 15-yard horse-collar penalty on defensive back Justin Onwugbufor and ended in the Grizzlies end zone when Jared Koster, the school’s all-time leading rusher, took a misdirection handoff from Nunez and raced 31 yards untouched down the right sideline to put Garden City back on top 14-7 with 9:18 to go in the second.
The problem was every haymaker Garden City threw, Wichita Northwest countered with a devastating right cross.
Yet even when they were staggered against the ropes, the Buffaloes still had a chance to pull away early.
The grizzlies took the ensuing possession into Buffalo territory. But on third-and-1 at the Garden City 49, running back Antonio Joyner coughed up the football, and Nalen Rincones recovered for the brown and white.
The celebration however was short lived.
Three plays later, Nunez gave it right back when his off-balance throw was intercepted over the middle by Tyreec Washington at the Grizzlies 43 yard line.
Just like that, any sense of Buffalo momentum came to a screeching halt.
“We did what we needed to do in the first half,” Hill said. “We were right there.”
That turnover proved to be costly.
Wichita Northwest moved the ball from their own 44 to the Buffalo 13, thanks in large part to Bott’s 10-yard run on fourth-and-6 at the Garden City 13. Six plays later it was Bott again, taking the wildcat snap and plunging into the end zone from one yard out to knot the game at 14 with 2:47 remaining before half time.
After Garden City went three-and-out, the Grizzlies had their shot to take control of the game. But a holding call near midfield short circuited the drive, and Wichita Northwest was forced to punt.
“We made stops when we needed to in the first half,” Hill said. “We just couldn’t carry that over in the second.”
Unfortunately for Hill and company, what they saw from the Grizzlies in the second half can only be described as breathtaking.
Wichita Northwest scored on back-to-back possessions to begin the third quarter: Jahlyl Rounds 36-yard dash to paydirt that capped off an eight-play, 74-yard drive and Deckinger’s 25-yard field goal that extended the Grizzlies’ advantage to 24-14.
Sandwiched in between Northwest’s chaotic tempo was a sensational scoring toss from Nunez, who dropped a dime to Patrick Clifford on a post pattern down the middle for a 30-yard touchdown. On the play, Clifford beat Chima Okoro and Nunez lofted a perfect spiral that landed right on the hands of his senior receiver. The score pulled the Buffaloes to within three 24-21 with 3:23 left in the third.
Wichita Northwest slammed the door shut after that.
The Grizzlies broke Garden City’s back with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that Bott punctuated with his third touchdown run of the night: a four-yard scamper that extended Wichita Northwest’s lead to 31-21 late in the third.
But if that was the backbreaker, the Grizzlies applied the nail in the coffin just a few minutes later.
Coming into week eight, Garden City’s defense had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last eight games. They allowed three in one night, and the Grizzlies’ ground game was on full display early in the fourth quarter.
The combination of Joyner and Rounds bulled over the Buffalo defense, helping Northwest march 74 yards from their own 8 to the Buffalo 28. Then Folsom, the dual-threat quarterback who’s already drawing interest from David Beaty at Kansas, hit Bott on a gorgeous seam route for 28-yards and the game-clinching touchdown.
“Credit Northwest; they’re a good football team,” Hill said. “But we have to turn the page and get ready to play Dodge City. We know if we win, we’re in. That’s our mentality going into next week.”
Folsom finished the night 14-of-27 for 151 yards and a touchdown. But he got plenty of help from his backfield mates. Joyner carried the ball 30 times for 150 yards; Rounds 25 totes for 171 and a touchdown and Bott carried nine times for 118 and three scores. The city-league’s leading receiver also caught five balls for 85 yards and a score.
Nunez completed 10-of-18 passes for 159 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. He was limited to just 34 yards on 13 carries while Koster ran it 11 times for 33 and Ethan Yardley added three runs for 36. LaPointe caught two balls for a team-best 68 yards and a score. Zeke Herrera recorded a game-high 16 tackles.
Notes: The 430 rushing yards allowed by Garden City is the most since giving up 483 to Hays last season…Northwest, who will end up shattering the state’s single-season yards per game record by year’s end (they’re averaging 558), churned out 581 yards on Friday night-it’s only the fifth time in the last 36 games that the Buffaloes have allowed 500 or more total yards…The Grizzlies had 23 more first downs than the Buffaloes (34-11)…Northwest was 11-of-21 on third down conversions…Wichita Northwest ran 51 more plays than Garden City (100-49)…Buffaloes are now 4-8 all-time at Northwest Stadium…Garden City’s defense came in forcing three-and-outs on 40 percent of their opponents’ possessions; they forced just one on Friday, and it came with 2:05 remaining in the game…Garden City was held to a season-low 103 rushing yards ending a streak of eight straight games where they hit 200 or more
Next up: Garden City vs. Dodge City-Friday, October 30: 6 p.m. kpreps; 6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM ESPN Radio; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr; mobile app: KWKR and tuneinradio app: KWKR