May 26, 2024

Buffaloes Football Faces Free State to Open 2023 KSHAA Playoffs

Photo Credits; Adam Shrimplin, Shrimplin Photography

GARDEN CITY, KS. – Neither one of these teams would’ve expected being here two weeks ago.

Garden City fresh off a win over their biggest rivals, Dodge City. Free State sitting pretty at 6-1, even after a heartbreaking loss to bitter adversaries, Lawrence High.

Yet, both teams played nearly the same game in week eight, sputtering to a season-worst five turnovers as both the Buffaloes and Firebirds lost out on clinching a share of their respective conferences. Coincidentally, both teams lost by the exact same score, 35-21.

And now, here we are. Win, or go home.

Playoff football for begins across Kansas this week, as an intriguing 6A matchup pits 10th seeded Garden City in Lawrence to take on the seventh-seeded Free State Firebirds. Both teams recorded winning records on the season, but due to a slough of week eight results, two teams poised to go on deep playoff runs.

“I think that the kids have all responded really well, we’ve had good practices,” 14th year head coach Brian Hill said. “They haven’t hung their head. We went right back to work on Monday.”

The Buffaloes had a chance to split a free-way share for the conference title with a win last week at Great Bend. GCHS trailed at the half for the first time all year, before an opening kickoff touchdown by Panthers’ freshman Cooper Ohnmacht would wipe the wind out of their sails.

Garden City’s (5-3, 2-2 WAC) playoff run last season saw them win in week nine, but fall in week ten. The Buffaloes were led by then-sophomores Dio and David Holguin. The brothers combined for 18 tackles last season against Haysville-Campus in week nine, and will both start in Friday night’s playoff matchup.

“They’ve been two of the most coachable kids you’ll ever meet,” defensive coordinator Justin Reich said. “If I tell them to correct a mistake, it never happens again.”

The Holguin brothers are extremely competitive, as you might expect. Both defensive linemen, wrestlers at Garden City, the Buffaloes defense has benefitted from those two in the front four. 

GCHS’ defense ranks fifth in class 6A in yards against and passing yards against this season. The Buffaloes will need their defense to be up to the challenge this week as they travel east.

The Free State (6-2, Sunflower League) offense ranks top 10 in all offensive categories in class 6A. The Firebirds offense has been led by senior signal-caller Wesley Edison, who has totaled 30 touchdowns (12 passing, 18 rushing) in his second season as a starter.

“We have to possess the football and score on it. This is not going to be a 7-0 football game,” Hill said. “Time of possession is important, but we have to execute on it.”

The Buffaloes begin their playoff journey from Free State Football Field, with pregame coverage beginning at 5:30 P.M. with Aaron Elam. Live coverage begins at 6:30 with the American Implement Pregame Show. Kickoff between the Buffaloes and Firebirds is scheduled for 7:00.