By BRETT MARSHALL
If there's one thing that Brian Hill hopes will happen when he and his Garden City Buffaloes football team climb onto the big USD 457 activity bus early this afternoon for the 400-plus mile trip to Bixby, Okla., it is that on the return trip home late Friday night they will be celebrating a victory.
Hill, who begins his fourth season with a 17-12 mark in the previous three, has yet to taste a win on the opening night of a football campaign.
Two straight losses in 2010 and 2011 to Scott City was followed by the 2012 shellacking at the hands of Bixby's Spartans, 42-7, in the inaugural game at Buffalo Stadium.
All Hill might want to do is to call his counterpart, Loren Montgomery, who will be across the turf at Lee Snider Field at Spartan Stadium for the 7 p.m. when the two teams complete their brief, two-year agreement.
It is Montgomery who said he thought his squad bonded and focused on their excursion from 20 miles south of Tulsa to western Kansas for last year's opening game, and perhaps Hill will see how it worked.
"I thought the kids were extremely dialed in during the long drive," Montgomery said in a telephone interview. "It ended up as a nice trip. We were in control of the variables. We had a practice the day before, then dinner. We stayed in Dodge City and were able to have position meetings the night before. We did a walk-thru the morning of the game, got the kids to bed early. It all worked out."
Hill, too, says he isn't sure how the long trip will weigh on his players.
"We'll obviously be doing things differently than if it were just a trip to Wichita," Hill said.
The Buffs were going to practice at 11 a.m. today and then board the bus to depart at 1:30. They will travel to Bartlesville, Okla., which is about an hour away from Tulsa. Hill said the team would do its own walk-thru in Bartlesville, check out and depart early in the afternoon for Bixby. After the game, it will be an approximately seven to eight hour ride home.
"We're used to traveling, so we'll just make sure we have everything organized," Hill said.
Hill will be taking a team away from home for the second time on opening Friday, and it is a team blessed with speed, quickness and as much athleticism as he's had in his three years at the GCHS helm.
"The kids are excited to play and to hit somebody else," Hill said. "We have an opponent to look forward to. We'll have to play very well if we want to come home with a W. Bixby's got some advantages with their preseason (two scrimmages against other schools), so we know they'll be prepared."
A year ago, it was the big play that doomed the Buffs when the Spartans used six big game-breakers to score all 42 of their points.
"They've got weapons on the outside, but we've gotta play every play," Hill said. "There was poor tackling, first game jitters, a lot of bad things happened. We're a year more experienced, and I think we'll be better prepared. They can run and throw both, so we've just got to be prepared either way."
The Buffs' offense will be engineered by senior Greyson Tempel, coming off a junior season in which he passed for 1,539 yards and 13 touchdowns, rushed for more than 900 yards and another 10 scores.
"He's had a natural progression with a season of playing quarterback," Hill said of Greyson Tempel, whose favorite target last year was his twin brother Dustin (39 catches). But he's gotta find other people to be an offensive threat so the defense has to hone in on others."
Replacing a good chunk of the offensive line (Alex Ortiz the lone returner at tackle) has been a big item on Hill's agenda. Defensively, the Buffs will not be big, but Hill said the team's quickness, athletic ability and pursuit to the ball will have to be trademarks for the team to be successful.
"They've worked their tails off this summer and the past two weeks," Hill said. "It's a great group of kids and we want to see them be successful."
Montgomery can fully understand Hill's position. In his first three years at Bixby, the Spartans are 19-21 and compete in one of the toughest Class 6A districts in Oklahoma.
"We've got a lot of experience returning, the most we've had since I got here," Montgomery said. "I feel like we're making headway. Our numbers are better and I'm excited about the program's progress."
Headlining the Spartans' offense will be senior quarterback Marshall Ray, who torched the Buffs with a 12-of-18 effort for 239 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. The Spartans played error-free ball while the Buffs were guilty of four miscues. Ray passed for 1,366 yards, connecting on 104-of-185 passes (56.2 percent), with 12 touchdowns and just three thefts last season.
Montgomery, though, expects the Buffs to give his team a better test this time around.
"The six plays we scored were a big, big boost to us," the Spartan boss said. "But we struggled on a lot of the other parts of the game. We're hoping to be a little more consistent with things this time around. Coach Hill does a great job, and I'm sure he'll have his kids ready to play."
Following the road opener, the Buffs will return for their home debut on Sept. 13 against Woodward, Okla.
Game notes: Bixby High School is located at 601 S. Riverview, Bixby, Okla. 74008. Admission to the game is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors. Seating for visitors will be on the east side of the stadium. Bixby's enrollment is 1,414. There are 28 schools in Oklahoma's Class 6A, the state's largest classification.
Know the Foe
What: Garden City at Bixby, Okla.
Where: Lee Snider Field at Spartan Stadium. Bixby is located 21 miles south of downtown Tulsa, or 402 miles from Garden City.
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: 2012, Bixby W 42-7 at Buffalo Stadium in Garden City.
School: Garden City
Class: Kansas Class 6A
Head coach: Brian Hill (4th year, 17-12)
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, Sr.
G—Montana Fuller, 6-3, 250, Sr.; Andres Loza, 6-2, 225, Jr. or 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—Nalen Rincones, 5-10, 180, So.
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.
2012 Results (5-4)
(Overall 5-4; WAC 2-2; 6A District 1-2)
Bixby, Okla., L 42-7
Woodward, Okla., W 17-7
Great Bend, W 45-28
Hays, L 29-21
Liberal, W 37-14
Wichita East, W 34-13
Maize, W 31-26
Hutchinson, L 56-14
Dodge City, L 24-20
School: Bixby, Okla.
Class: Oklahoma Class 6A
Head Coach: Loren Montgomery (4th year, )
Projected Starting Lineup
WR—Kyle Rhine, 6-0, 175, Jr.; Kale Mulkey, 5-10, 166, Jr.; Isaiah Harbin, 6-1, 188, Sr.
TE—Jared Kerr, 6-0, 190, So.
T—Jordan Johnston, 5-11, 227, Jr.; Brandon Dyson, 6-0, 226, Jr.
G—Tyler Womack, 6-4, 297, Jr.; Beaude Clark, 5-9, 215, Sr.
C—Chandler Miller, 6-3, 292, Sr.
QB—Marshall Ray, 6-2, 200, Sr.
RB—Justin Williams, 5-11, 185, Jr.; Nic Roller, 6-0, 232, So.
PK—Taylor Ruth, 5-11, 165, Jr.
T—Nic Roller, 6-2, 232, So.;
NG—Matt Dreyer, 6-3, 240, Sr.
E—Austin Grotts, 6-2, 240, Jr.
LB—Casey Saied, 5-11, 180, Jr.; Blake Kirk, 5-10, 176, Sr.; Brdandon Turney, 6-1, 205, Sr.; Jon Kuhn, 6-1, 206, Sr.
CB—Kyle Rhine, 6-0, 175, Jr.; Blake Cooper, 6-1, 187, Jr.
S—JJ Cantrell, 5-10, 165, Jr.; Adrian Mica, 5-10, 170, Jr.
P—Marshall Ray, 6-2, 200, Sr.
2012 Results (4-6)
Garden City, W 42-7
Page, Okla., L 21-7
Springdale, Ark., W 22-7
Westmoore, Okla., L 35-6
Broken Arrow, Okla., L 41-7
Sapulpa, Okla., L 14-10
Tulsa Edison, Okla., W 35-0
Putnam City, Okla., L 18-13
Jenks, Okla., L 41-6
Muskogee, Okla., W 46-21