By BRETT MARSHALL
If the Garden City High School football senior players never play another game at Buffalo Stadium, their final one will have provided a memory for the ages.
And while it for sure was a team effort, seniors, juniors, sophomores, all, this one belongs to the seniors.
On a wild and crazy Senior Night, it was Garden City 31, Maize 26.
In their first Class 6A-District 8 game of the season, any number of the 21 seniors played a big, big role in the win.
Perhaps none was bigger than the final, game-winning touchdown for the Buffs with just 0:40.4 seconds remaining in the game, which saw the lead change hands three times in the final quarter.
That was when senior tight end Taylor Foley, on a play that was inserted into the offensive scheme for the first time earlier in the week by coach Brian Hill, took a tight end screen from Greyson Tempel on the far left, broke two tackles at the 8-yard line and plowed his way into the end zone for an 11-yard score on a 3rd-and-goal play that followed a 5-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on the Garden City bench when Hill inadvertently left the team box.
Senior Rudy Chavez, who had booted a 28-yard field goal early in the second quarter for the game's first points, knocked in the point-after to give the Buffs their final 5-point margin.
The final seconds, though, were enough to put the crowd into cardiac arrest.
As they had all night, the Eagles battled to the bitter end. Getting the ball on their own 30 with just 31 seconds remaining, Maize reached the Buffs' 43 before, you guessed it, another Garden City senior, Brady Bean, intercepted Connor Lungwitz as time ran out on the clock.
Ironically, it was Bean — one of the team leaders for the Buffs and also a three-year starter at linebacker — who fumbled the ball away to the Eagles with 5:33 remaining and the Buffs clinging to a 24-23 lead.
Maize took Garden's lone miscue of the night, and went 45 yards with Jeff Light providing the Eagles a 28-yard field goal with 2:18 left and on the precipice of a big road win.
"Our defense came up with big plays all night and we were able to hold them there at the end," Bean said. "When I fumbled, I felt like I had let my team down." Bean's final play theft of Lungwitz was perhaps a bit of redemption, as he had been stellar throughout the night. He rushed 11 times for 76 yards and scored three touchdowns, on short runs of 4, 2 and 1 yards. He also caught three passes for 34 yards on a night when other offensive players had to step up and take the slack for Greyson Tempel, who was bottled up by a rugged Maize defense.
"These kids continue to find ways to respond," Hill said of his Buffs, who are now 5-2 overall and most importantly, 1-0 in the district. "I can't say enough about Brady and his leadership for three years. But he's not alone. This group of seniors were not going to be denied and if they never play here again, this is quite a way to go out."
Then, there was senior defensive lineman Bryce Bennett, who came up with a big stop midway through the second quarter to set up the Buffs' first TD of the game, Bean's 4-yarder at the 7:27 mark. Bennett leaped high to bat a pass by Lungwitz into the air, waited for it to come down into his arms and then rumbled to the 4-yard line.
"It was an amazing game," an elated Bennett said afterward. "I'll never forget this night. It's something I'll treasure for the rest of my life."
Despite five turnovers (three lost fumbles, two interceptions), the Eagles hung around all night thanks to a monumental effort.
"Oh, heck yeah, I knew we'd have a tough time tonight," Hill said. "Maize had a heckuva effort, but I thought our kids matched it. That was two good football teams out there tonight. If somebody had to win, I'm glad it was us."
The early 10-0 Garden City lead disappeared in the final 5:35 of the second quarter when the Eagles got a 49-yard TD pass from Lungwitz to Kendall Stewart and a 25-yard field goal by Jeff Light. It was all knotted at 10 at the break.
The teams traded scores in the third as Bean scored his 2-yard touchdown with 9:01 showing and Elijah West electrified the Maize fans, and stunned the GCHS faithful, with a 71-yard punt return.
That set the stage for the fourth quarter, which at times resembled a roller-coaster or a yo-yo. Nothing seemed secure, and nothing seemed impossible.
Bean scored on the quarter's first play on a 1-yard plunge that came on a short, 18-yard drive that followed another senior big play, this time Logan Dechant's interception of Lungwitz. Chavez' kick made it 24-17.
Maize responded with a 65-yard drive that was culminated in Chase Stewart's 3-yard run but Light's extra point kick missed as his foot hit the entire kicking tee and the ball came up short of the goalpost. That made it 24-23 Garden with 8:25 left.
It was the ensuing drive by Garden that resulted in Bean's lost fumble with 5:33 on the clock, and it took the Eagles three minutes to get into scoring position. This time Light nailed a 28-yard field goal to provide the visitors with a 26-23 edge.
On the game-winning drive, the Tempel brothers once again provided a flair for the dramatic. After Greyson had made a first down on a third-and-three, he heaved a long pass down the right side and brother Dustin made an over-the-shoulder catch and made two sharp cuts back across the field before being tackled at the six. A short run by Dechant moved the ball to the 3 before Hill was flagged with the 5-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Bean was thrown for a 3-yard loss and that set the stage for the dramatic screen play call by Hill.
"I was watching a college game a couple of weeks ago and saw it and really thought it was a great play," Hill said. "We put it in this past week, it worked in practice, and I thought it was just the right time to call it. It worked. Everyone worked it to perfection. We got great blocks, and Taylor was not going to be denied. I'm exhausted from this one, but it's a good exhaustion."
The Buffs will now hit the road for their final two district contests, with Hutchinson looming large on Friday. The Salthawks, last year's 5A state champs, are now back in the 6A group, and opened their district play with a 49-17 dismantling of Dodge City. The Buffs will face Dodge City in the Hatchet Game on Oct. 26 to close out the regular season.
"We'll enjoy this one for the weekend and then it's back to work for the next one," Hill said. "Now we at least know we are in control of our own destiny."
Maize High 0 10 7 9 -- 26
Garden City 0 10 7 14 -- 31
GC--Rudy Chavez 28 field goal, 10:15.
GC--Brady Bean 4 run (Chavez kick), 7:27.
M--Kendall Stewart 49 pass from Connor Lungwitz (Jeff Light kick), 5:35.
M--Light 25 field goal, 1:52.
GC--Bean 2 run (Chavez kick), 9:01.
M--Elijah West 71 punt return (Light kick), 6:00.
GC--Bean 1 run (Chavez kick), 11:57.
M--Chase White 3 run (kick failed), 8:25.
M--Light 28 field goal, 2:18.
GC--Taylor Foley 11 pass from Greyson Tempel (Chavez kick), 0:40.4.
Team Statistics M GC
First downs 17 17
Rushes-yards 31-144 43-140
Passing yards 151 222
Com-Att-Int 12-23-2 13-22-0
Fumbles-lost 4-3 1-1
Penalties-yards 3-20 9-70
Punts-avg. 2-27.0 5-39.4
RUSHING--Maize: Lungwitz 2-0, White 20-86, Stewart 5-38, Nicholas 3-13, Byfield 1-7; Garden City: G. Tempel 21-14, Dechant 11-50, Bean 11-76.
PASSING--Maize: Lungwitz 12-23-2--151; Garden City: G. Tempel 13-22-0--222.
RECEIVING--Maize: Stewart 4-89, Schultz 5-41, White 2-15, Nicholas 1-11; Garden City: Nevola 2-10, D. Tempel 5-130, Banner 2-12, Foley 2-29, Bean 3-34.