By BRETT MARSHALL
It's kind of like the first six games really didn't matter, even though they did.
That's how Garden City High School football coach Brian Hill sums up the nine-game schedule for his Buffaloes football team.
After going 4-2, including wins in the past two weeks against Liberal and Wichita East, the Buffs can simply wipe the slate clean and start all over.
That's what happens in Kansas high school football with the district playoff system determining who gets in to the postseason and who hangs up their gear at the end of October.
It's all about the last three games, and the first of those district games will be at 7 p.m. Friday at Buffalo Stadium when the Buffs entertain the Maize Eagles (4-2) in the first Class 6A District 8 game.
"You'd always like to have two of the three district games at home," Hill said after Wednesday's midweek practice. "But it's nice to have the first one at home. It's the most important one and if you win, then you have a chance to run the table and control your own destiny. That's what you want to be able to do — be in control of what happens to you. You don't want to have to rely on getting help from others."
And help is one thing teams such as the Buffs, playoff participants each of the past two seasons under Hill, won't get from regular district opponents Maize and Dodge City. That's because Hutchinson, the superpower of high school football over the past decade, has returned to Class 6A after a brief stint in 5A in which they won state championships in 2008, 2009 and 2011. The Salthawks, who open Friday at Dodge City, also won state 6A titles in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
And in a season when some pundits were digging a grave for the Salthawks after two early losses, one to powerhouse Rockhurst, Mo., and the other to 5A toughie Salina South, Hutch revived their fortune and produced a dramatic 31-28 victory over previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Derby a week ago.
Now, with the Buffs taking on Maize before heading to the Salt City a week from now to take on the Salthawks, a win against Maize becomes all-important.
"I think the kids have continued to improve, they're playing hard and now they're playing reaction football rather than thinking football," Hill said of his team. "When you can just go out and react rather than think, you're a lot more comfortable with how the kids will play."
In Maize, Hill sees a team that is much improved over the team that the Buffs wore down a year ago. In that shutout win, the Buffs were up 7-0 after one quarter, 17-0 at halftime and then added a field goal in the third and another TD in the fourth. Garden's defense limited the Eagles to just 66 yards rushing and 97 yards through the air and picked off two interceptions.
"Their offensive line is doing a much better job of protecting the quarterback (sophomore Connor Lungwitz, 6-2, 178) and they're running the ball better, too," Hill said of the Eagles, who are coached by Gary Guzman in his second season at the helm. "They're a lot more comfortable with everything they're doing as you would expect with a second season."
The Eagles, who utilize a spread offense nearly 100 percent of the time, are still primarily a passing game, mixing in the run effectively.
"They do enough running that you can't just concentrate on the passing attack," Hill said. "Lungwitz can make big plays with his arm, and many times you see a quarterback who can beat you with his legs, but Lungwitz can really wing it, and can throw it into tight spaces."
Maize's two losses have come against Derby (41-0) and to 5A's Salina South (43-14). Wins have been produced against Salina Central (28-21), Newton, Goddard and Campus.
"They've beaten the teams they should and played two outstanding teams in Derby and (Salina) South."
Defensively, the Eagles have switched from a 3-man to a 4-man front, something that Hill hopes will make it easier for his offense to contend with.
"We've seen similar defenses now for the last few weeks, so this recognition will be a little better for our kids," Hill said. "But we've still got to go out, stay focused on what has been working for us, and then execute it."
Know the Foe
Who: Garden City vs. Maize High
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Buffalo Stadium
Last Meeting: 2011, Garden City, 27-0.
Class: 6A, District 8
League: Western Athletic Conference
Mascot: Buffaloes (Brown/White)
Coach: Brian Hill, (3rd year, 16-10, .615)
Probable Starting lineup
T--Alex Ortiz, 6-3, 285, So.; Andres Rivas, 6-3, 205, Sr.
G--Ian Jones, 5-10, 205, Sr.; Ben Blood, 6-5, 275, Sr.
C--Mitch Moore, 6-1, 245, Sr.
TE--Taylor Foley, 6-2, 220, Sr.
WR--Dustin Tempel, 5-10, 165, Jr.; Hunter Delgado, 6-1, 165, Jr.;
FB--Brady Bean, 5-11, 200, Sr.
TB--Logan Dechant, 5-9, 170, Sr.
QB--Greyson Tempel, 5-10, 175, Jr.
PK--Rudy Chavez, 5-8, 150, Sr.
E--Andres Rivas, 6-3, 205, Sr.; Taylor Foley, 6-2, 220, Sr.
T--James Nguyen, 6-0, 205, Jr.; Quinton Mead, 5-10, 210, Jr.
LB--Todd Savolt, 5-8, 180, Sr.; Brady Bean, 5-11, 200, Sr.
S--Hunter Delgado, 6-1, 165, Jr.; Dozie Ekweariri, 5-8, 145 Jr.
CB--Denton Keller, 5-10, 170, Sr.; Dustin Tempel, 5-10, 165, Jr.
P--Mitchell Hernandez, 5-9, 170, Jr.
2012 Results (4-2, 2-1 WAC)
Aug. 31--BIXBY, OKLA., L 42-7
Sept. 7--at Woodward, Okla., W 17-7
Sept. 14--at Great Bend#, W 45-28
Sept. 21--HAYS#, L 29-21
Sept. 28--LIBERAL#, W 37-14
Oct. 5--at Wichita East, W 34-13
Oct. 19--at Hutchinson*
Oct. 26--at Dodge City*#
*--Denotes Class 6A District-8 game
#--Denotes Western Athletic Conference game
Class: 6A, District 8
League: Ark Valley Chisholm Trail I
Mascot: Eagles (Red/White)
Coach: Gary Guzman, (2nd year, 7-8, .466)
2012 Results (4-2, 3-2 AVL/CTL)
Aug. 31--at Newton, W 49-25
Sept. 7--at Salina South, L 43-14
Sept. 14--DERBY, L 41-0
Sept. 21--at Goddard, W 62-19
Sept. 28--SALINA CENTRAL, W 28-21
Oct. 5--at Haysville-Campus, W 34-0
Oct. 12--at Garden City*
Oct. 19--DODGE CITY*
*--Denotes Class 6A District-8 game.