By BRETT MARSHALL
If ever there was a football season where the WAC, short for Western Athletic Conference, really was a shortened version of 'Wacky,' this would be the year.
And that's what has Garden City and Liberal coaches Brian Hill and Cliff Abbott scratching their heads as they prepare for Friday's 7 p.m. kickoff at Redskin Field.
Consider this — through the early portion of the WAC season, no team has won a home game. Yep, that's right. The WAC thus far has become the road warrior league.
Hays beat the Redskins in Liberal, Great Bend knocked off Garden City on the road, Garden City dominated in a win at Hays and Liberal edged out the Red Demons in Dodge City, ending a seven-year WAC losing streak for the Redskins.
"I don't know whether I couldn't sleep last Friday night after we won our game, or because of what Garden City had done," said Liberal's Abbott on Wednesday.
He was referring to the Redskins' come-from-behind 40-27 victory at Dodge City, the school's first league win since 2005 (he said it was 1,890 days), while also noting Garden City's stunning 35-0 thrashing of Hays High on the road in just one half of a game that was called due to lightning.
"It was unbelievable when I heard the Garden score," Abbott said. "You look at film, and Garden's talent on offense is pretty scary. They can score quickly. It's always been a great rivalry and I think it has the makings for a great game. But then, I think every game in the WAC this year will be that way. Every team is capable of beating any other. It's gonna be a wide-open race and probably will go down to the last game."
And for Garden City's Hill, trying to make sure his team retains the focus and intensity, or as he described it, "playing with a chip on their shoulder," is the big discussion point as they prepare for the trip south to Liberal. The last three games, all under Hill, have been blowouts in favor of the Buffs (38-14, 52-21 and 37-14).
"What we did last week doesn't carry over as far as points on the board," Hill said. "We'll have to bring the same intensity and caliber of play to this Friday. Liberal's a more polished team, they're more experienced and they have some talented athletes."
For Abbott, it has been more about his seniors finally grasping the system and embracing it.
"I'm really pleased with the way our kids have committed to the overall program," said Abbott, now in his third season at the helm. "This group of seniors was kind of thrown into the fire and they took it on the chin the last couple of seasons."
But the Redskins, with a high-powered offense led by Abbott's 6-5 senior quarterback son Britton, has put on an aerial display not seen in these parts for some time.
While compiling a 3-1 record (only loss 52-36 at home to Hays), the Redskins have averaged 47.5 points and are passing for 392.3 yards and rushing for 178.8 each time out. Abbott, the quarterback, has thrown for 1,457 of those yards while completing 93-of-164 attempts (56.7 percent), with 12 touchdowns and just one interception.
"His biggest improvement this year is being able to recognize defenses," coach Abbott said of his son. "When practice is over, he has to ride home with me. We're able to talk and spend time on film, and I've given him more freedom to make changes at the line and that's made all the difference."
Abbott's favorite receiver is senior speedster Trenton Hammond (6-2, 210), the current Class 5A 300-meter hurdle champion and perhaps one of the fastest players in Kansas. Hammond has snared 36 of those passes for 736 yards (20.4 average), 11 of those going for TDs. But Abbott also can throw to Nolan Larkin (21 cathces, 308 yards), and Lorenzo Pando (17 catches, 248 yards).
The last two Garden City wins over the Redskins have come in different fashions. The 2011 game at Liberal saw the Buffs score on their first four possessions en route to a 42-0 halftime lead. Last year in Garden, the Buffs led just 19-14 at the half but then held the Redskins scoreless while adding 18 points to the tally in the final half.
And what about these Buffs?
Turnovers were big in their season-opening loss at Bixby, Okla., (32-27) and a narrow escape at home against Woodward, Okla., (35-34). They didn't have a miscue against Great Bend, but came up on the short end of a 28-25 score that left Hill miffed about the team's readiness for the Panthers. He challenged his seniors and the rest of the team to respond, and they did so in impressive fashion in whipping up on the Indians at Lewis Field Stadium in just 24 minutes.
Big plays were the rule once again for the quick-strike Buffs.
Of the five touchdowns during the 24 minutes of play, four of those came from 25 yards or more. Tramp caught a 47-yard pass from Greyson Tempel; Tempel had scoring runs of 25 and 67 yards, while his twin, Dusty, scampered 66 yards on a punt return.
"It's pretty impressive what they did at Hays," Abbott said of the Buffs. "To shut out Hays is pretty amazing because they play tough, smash-mouth football and had been an offensive machine. We're gonna have to play well, and it's a big game. It means a lot, and we'll have to be well-prepared."
The fact that the Buffs have jumped out to big early leads in each of the past two years is a concern for Abbott, too.
That means trying to slow down Greyson Tempel, who is second to Abbott in passing (818 yards, 6 TDs), while completing 45-of-88 passes (51.1 percent). He has thrown three interceptions. Tempel also has 458 rushing yards (114.5) compared to Abbott's 495 yards (123.8). Tramp (6-5, 210) has become his favorite receiver with 18 catches for 365 yards and 4 scores.
The Buffs will be back home on Oct. vs. Wichita East. 12 when they host Wichita East in a non-league game.
That is the final contest before they enter Class 6A district play on Oct. 19 at Maize, followed by home games against Hutchinson (Oct. 26) and Dodge City (Nov. 1).
Rivalry notes: This will be the 94th meeting (with records available) between the two southwest Kansas schools. The first game was believed to have been played in 1917 (forfeit to Liberal after Garden City used an ineligible player following what would have been a 13-6 Garden win). Liberal owns a narrow 47-43-3 advantage in the series, but Garden City has won the last five. Liberal's last win came in 2007, 39-20, at Liberal. Garden City's longest winning streak is seven games (1951-57), while Liberal's is 13 (1976-88). The Buffs own the biggest win in the series at 71-0, in 1928, while Liberal's biggest margin is 35 points, 42-7, in 1969. Both schools have multiple 1-point victories, while Garden owns 17 shutouts to 15 for Liberal. The three ties were 1932, 1947 and 1959. From 1966 to 1988, Liberal dominated 22-1.
Know the Foe
What: Garden City at Liberal
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Redskin Field, Liberal
Last Meeting: 2012, Garden City, 37-14, at Buffalo Stadium.
Last Game in Liberal: 2011, Garden City, 52-21.
Series Record (History incomplete): 94th meeting, Liberal leads 47-43-3.
Mascot: Buffaloes (Brown & White)
Class: Kansas 6A, District 8 (Maize, Hutchinson, Dodge City)
League: Western Athletic Conference
Head Coach: Brian Hill (4th year, 19-14, .576)
Record: 2-2, 1-1 (WAC)
Projected Starting Lineup
WR--Dusty Tempel, 5-10, 170, Sr.; Mitchell Hernandez, 5-8, 160, Sr.; Caleb Tramp, 6-5, 205, Jr.
T--Alex Frey, 6-4, 290, So.; Alex Ortiz, 6-3, 285, Jr.
G--Montana Fuller, 6-3, 250, Sr.; Cesar Felix, 5-8, 240, Sr.
C--Humberto Perez, 6-0, 230, Jr.
QB--Greyson Tempel, 5-11, 175, Sr.
TB--Jared Koster, 5-11, 155, So.
FB--Clay Woydziak, 5-10, 175, Sr.
PK--Ismael Hernandez, 5-7, 140, Sr.
T--James Nguyen, 6-2, 210, Sr.; Quinton Mead, 5-11, 220, Sr.
E--Cody Worden, 5-11, 180, Sr.; Andrew Brom, 5-8, 170, Sr.
LB--Trenton Chiddix, 5-8, 170, Jr.; Kelton Uthe, 5-10, 215, Sr.; Nalen Rincones, 5-10, 180, So.
CB--Alex Espinosa, 6-0, 160, Jr.; Dusty Tempel, 5-10, 170, Sr.
S--Emilio Parr, 6-2, 175, Sr.; Dozie Ekweariri, 5-9, 140, Sr.
P--Mitchell Hernandez, 5-8, 160, Sr.
(2-2, 1-1 WAC)
Sept. 6--at Bixby, Okla., L 32-27
Sept. 13--WOODWARD, OKLA., W 35-34
Sept. 20--GREAT BEND*, L 28-25
Sept. 27--at Hays*, W 35-0 (game called at halftime, lightning)
Oct. 4--at Liberal*
Oct. 11--WICHITA EAST
Oct. 18--at Maize#
Nov. 1--DODGE CITY*#
*-Indicates WAC game; #-Indicates Class 6A district game.
Mascot: Redskins (Red and Black)
Class: Kansas 5A, District 8 (Bishop Carroll, Goddard, Goddard-Eisenhower)
League: Western Athletic Conference
Head Coach: Cliff Abbott (3rd year at LHS, 7-15, .318)
Projected Starting Lineup
WR--Trenton Hammond, 6-2, 210, Sr.; Nolan Larkin, 6-3, 225, Sr.; Cristian Erives, 5-11, 165, Jr.
T--Dustin Friederich, 6-2, 235, Sr.; Heath Parmenter, 6-1, 245, Sr.
G--Shawn Lay, 5-10, 170, Sr.; Sergio Borjas, 6-3, 265, Jr.
C--Clayton Benson, 6-2, 220, Jr.
TE--Alan Fraire, 6-3, 235, So.
QB--Britton Abbott, 6-5, 220, Sr.
RB--Rex Heronomous, 6-0, 220, Jr.
E--Dylan Berens, 6-3, 235, Sr.; Arturo Ortega, 5-11, 210, Jr.
T--Dustin Friederich, 6-2, 235, Sr.
NG--Heath Parmenter, 6-1, 245, Sr.
LB--Britton Abbott, 6-5, 220, Sr.; Nolan Larkin, 6-3, 225, Sr.; Alan Fraire, 6-3, 235, So.
CB--Chrystian Symons, 5-10, 155, Sr.; Mershek Wiltshire, 6-2, 185, Jr.
SS--Edwin Sobalvarro, 6-2, 185, Jr.
FS--Trenton Hammond, 6-2, 210, Sr.
P--Britton Abbott, 6-5, 220, Sr.
(3-1, 1-1 WAC)
Sept. 6--at Ulysses, W 56-41
Sept. 13--GUYMON, OKLA., W 56-0
Sept. 20--HAYS, L 52-38
Sept. 27--at Dodge City, W 40-27
Oct. 4--GARDEN CITY
Oct. 11--at Great Bend
Oct. 25--at Goddard-Eisenhower
Nov. 1--BISHOP CARROLL