Finally — The Hatchet Game.
The 115th playing of one of the storied high school football rivalries in Kansas was played Friday night at Buffalo Stadium.
And with their 41-20 victory, the Garden City Buffaloes not only recaptured that coveted Hatchet, but they also clinched a Class 6A playoff berth by virtue of Hutchinson's 33-31 victory over Maize.
And I was there — at last.
In that maze of point margins, it was Maize's Eagles that came out on top of the three-way tie for first when the three schools finished with identical 2-1 records. The Eagles finished at plus-17, the Buffaloes at plus-16 and Hutch at plus-12.
So, the 115th edition came down to two stories at the end — who would win the Hatchet, and at halftime it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Buffs would regain it by leading 28-6. They never led by less than the final margin in the final 24 minutes. The second story, though, was the playoff picture. Muddled by the tiebreaker system.
The only doubt came late when twice Dodge City had chances to keep drives alive that might have provided a touchdown that could have proved deadly to the Buffs' playoffs hopes.
It may come as a surprise to some that the sports editor of The Telegram would have been prior witness to such an important game after five previous seasons.
But with assignments divvied up amongst our full and part-time staff, it just never worked out for me — until Friday night.
The first two years I was back in western Kansas, I was covering area football games on that night, or I was on the road traveling to eastern Kansas in advance of the state cross country championships.
As you read this today, I am in a car with Garden City High School athletic director Martin Segovia, headed to Lawrence with the hope of watching the Lady Buffs cross country team battle, perhaps win, their first team championship at Rim Rock Farm.
You can imagine that it was indeed a short, short night. Yawn.
But the history for me with the Hatchet Game goes even further back — to 1975.
That's when I became the sports editor of The Dodge City Daily Globe. Yep, you guessed it — we were writing about the Red Demons then.
But, lo and behold, the former sports editor at The Globe was then the managing editor and he loved the Red Demons. So much, that he covered them each week which permitted me the opportunity to be the area prep writer. Oh how things change so little.
Back then, Dodge City was a powerhouse and won those two mid-70s contests 14-6 and 28-0, and I didn't watch either game.
I had become enchanted and intrigued with the Hatchet Game when I moved back to Garden City in 2008, but had not taken the opportunity to do much research on the rivalry's history. I decided to change that this fall.
For the past two months, I have spent countless hours at the Finney County Public Library poring through microfilm of old Telegram articles. I have perched myself in a chair at the Finney County Historical Museum, looking at old Sugar Beet (GCHS newspaper) editions as well as the GCHS yearbooks. The goal was to try and chronicle as best I could the history between these two western Kansas giants.
Since 2008, and being on the road east to cross country state meets, all I could do was either get a summary, or watch livestreaming from a hotel room. Dodge City won the first three games of 2008 (22-16), 2009 (14-6) and 2010 (29-26). Garden City got its first win under coach Brian Hill with a memorable 18-15 double-overtime win at home in 2011. Then Dodge reclaimed the Hatchet a year ago with a 24-20 upset win on their home turf.
Dodge City and Garden City are the two biggest communities west of Hutchinson. They are the two biggest high schools west of Wichita. As Dodge City coach David Foster said earlier in the week, the two communities are like islands in western Kansas. No other communities are quite like them.
So when I discovered that the first game was played in 1903 (Teddy Roosevelt was president of the U.S. then), the history curiosity just was too much to resist.
In the early 20th century, the teams played a home-and-home, with the second game being played on Thanksgiving Day, which at one time was called the Feast of the Turkey Day.
For a number of years, the teams played just the one time each season and the scheduled meeting took place in midseason.
Since 1969, when the state playoffs for football began, the teams have now traditionally played the final regular season game. They are in the same league, they are in the same district. They go hand-in-hand.
In all fairness, Dodge City has dominated the overall series, owning a 71-40-3 record while topping the Hatchet Game (starting in 1938) at 48-26-1.
Even current Garden City Mayor Dan Fankhouser has a deep tie to the game, having played outside linebacker for the Buffs on their 1961 unbeaten team. That year, the Buffs throttled the Demons, 33-12, and Fankhouser has some memories of the game's significance.
"We were determined we were gonna win," Fankhouser said earlier this week. "We hadn't beaten them in our previous three years, so it was important to get a win our senior year."
That game was played at Penrose Field before the rivalry moved to Memorial Stadium and is now at Buffalo Stadium.
No matter the venue, the stakes are high. The winner gets to keep the Hatchet for 365 days and brag about it. The loser has to silently eat humble pie.
And while the rivalry emits a lot of emotion, sometimes more than one would like, it is a healthy rivalry for two of the leading communities in western Kansas.
On the final night of the regular season, with most other schools having completed their schedules on Thursday night, the eyes of the football faithful were squarely on the Hatchet Game.
And I for one am glad I got to witness it — finally. Better late than never.
Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org