By KEVIN THOMPSON
DODGE CITY — The hatchet returns to the Red Demons.
At the same time, Dodge City moves on in the playoffs; Garden City stays home.
The Red Demons came back from a lackluster first half to defeat the Buffaloes 24-20 Friday night in the 75th edition of the Hatchet Game rivalry here at Memorial Stadium.
And because of the "marginal points" system in district play, Dodge City's 4-point win sends them into next week's playoffs.
A 3-point game, and Garden City would still be hatchet-less, but playoff-bound. The Red Demons and Buffs both finished at minus-12 in marginal points, and with matching 1-2 records in district play, Dodge City earned the runner-up spot behind Hutchinson due to the Demons' head-to-head win over the Buffs.
Down 14-7 at halftime, Dodge City outscored the Buffaloes 17-6 in the second half for the home field win, reminiscent of the 2010 game in which they overcame a 26-0 halftime deficit to get the win.
Four Garden City turnovers and an inspired Red Demon defense spelled the Buffaloes' demise in the second half. In all, the Buffaloes coughed up the ball six times, three lost fumbles and three passes picked off.
After a Dodge City field goal to open the half had cut the Garden City lead to 14-10, Immanuel Galloway picked off a fumbled snap that popped straight up into the air, and the junior defensive back ran it back 82 yards for the score.
Three minutes later, Dodge City's Parker Davis fumbled at the goal line, but teammate Bernabe Rincon fell on the ball in the end zone for a 24-14 lead.
Garden City cut the lead to 24-20 in the fourth quarter when Greyson Tempel hit Brad Swick wide open over the middle for a 23-yard score, but Rudy Chavez's extra point kick was blocked, and that proved the difference in the playoff picture.
But the Buffaloes had one more chance late after Dozie Ekweariri recovered a Davis fumble at the Garden City 2-yard line.
With 98 yards to drive and only 1:33 left to play, Tempel resorted to the passing game but plays by the likes of Trace Pike made things tough.
Still, with 20 seconds remaining, Garden City had the ball at its 43, but Taylor Murphy intercepted Greyson Tempel's final pass of the game deep to seal the win.
Senior Brady Bean, who had 82 yards on 16 carries as well as seven tackles, was visibly upset after the loss, but said the Buffs had nobody to blame but themselves.
"It's one of the worst things I've had in my life," he said. "We weren't moving like we were in the first half and we never got it going like we had."
It was just a difference of two halves, he said.
"The first half was great. We came out; we were moving. We executed what our game plan was,"' he added. "But the problem with the second half, they came out rocking."
Most of the first half went the way of the Buffaloes.
Garden City could not convert an opening drive that consumed over seven minutes on 15 plays, and on its next series quarterback Tempel lost a fumble at his own 5-yard line.
Parker Davis carried it in on the ensuing play for a 7-0 Dodge City lead.
But the Buffalo offense woke up on the first play of the next quarter when Tempel hit brother Dustin for a 38-yard bomb to the Red Demon 19.
Bean converted a 4th-and-1 to keep the drive alive and scored from 1 yard out with 8:02 to play to tie the game.
On their next possession, Garden City benefitted from a pass interference call on what would have been an interception. Instead, they got the ball on their own 35. Tempel broke away three plays later on a keeper for 40 yards, and with 13 seconds remaining, he hit Bo Banner from three yards out for a 14-7 lead.
The momentum shift could have been greater, but after recovering an onside kick, Chavez missed a field goal attempt as time ran out.
Again, perhaps a difference maker, though at the time the momentum favored the Buffaloes.
Greyson Tempel, who finished with 88 rushing yards and 181 in the air, agreed with Bean about the tales of the two halves.
"We were moving the ball and we'd fumble it or throw an interception. Turnovers were a big part of the game," he said. "Their secondary definitely adjusted and played their heart out."
"We just made too many mistakes. We beat ourselves," Tempel said.
Garden City out-gained the Demons 356-235, but the six turnovers proved costly, especially the two fumbles that led to scores.
Garden City coach Brian Hill thought Dodge City gave his team the same looks in both halves, but the turnovers swung momentum and the Buffs squandered opportunities.
"Turnovers have been our Achilles heel all year long and they showed again tonight," he said.
The game was going according to plan for the most part, Hill said.
"We were running the football, moving the chains and using a lot of clock to keep their high-powered offense on the sideline," he said. "We were doing that, but when you turn the ball over — they ran two plays for a total of six yards (the two fumble plays) and got 14 points, and the difference in the game is four. That's a tough pill to swallow."
Garden City ends the season 5-4 (1-2 in district play), while Dodge City is now 4-5 (also 1-2).
In the Hatchet series, the Red Demons now lead 48-26-1.
The loss is especially hard on the seniors, Hill said.
"We don't want to forget what they've done and the work they've put in my three years," he said. "Their leadership on and off the field will definitely be missed."
Garden City 0 14 0 6 — 20
Dodge City 7 0 17 0 — 24
DC--Davis 5 run (Burkhard kick) 3:05
GC--Bean 1 run (Chavez kick) 8:02
GC--Tempel 3 pass to Banner (Chavez kick) :13
DC--Burkhard 32 FG 10:06
DC--Immanuel Galloway 82 fumble return (Burkhard kick) 6:59
DC--Rincon fumble recovery in end zone (Burkhard kick) 3:41
GC--Tempel 23 pass to Swick (kick blocked) 4:02
First downs 19 14
Rushing yds 175 73
Passing yds 215 162
Com-Att-Int 14-31-3 11-17-0
Total yards 390 235
Punts-avg. 2-34.5 3-18
Fumbles-lost 3-3 3-3
Penalties-yards 1-10 4-30
RUSHING --GC: G. Tempel 25-95, Bean 16-78, Koster 5-8; DC: Davis 21-61, Newton 2-8.
PASSING--GC: Tempel 12-25-3-181; DC: Newton 11-17-0-162.
RECEIVING--GC: D. Tempel 4-82, Banner 4-47; Foley 2-16, Nevola 2-25, Swick 2-33; DC: Doan 3-52, Galloway 2-57.