By BRETT MARSHALL
The last time the Garden City Buffaloes and Scott City Beavers met on the football field, there were only four classifications for high schools in Kansas. Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States. Scott City head coach Glenn O'Neil was a pre-schooler, and Garden City's first-year head coach Brian Hill hadn't even been born yet.
It was 1964, and culminating a run of 17 consecutive victories, the Buffs defeated the Beavers 12-6. And thus came an end to a series that had only briefly been interrupted once since 1920.
But after 46 years, the two teams are set to square off again at 7 p.m. Friday at Garden City's Memorial Stadium.
Scott City coach Glenn O'Neil and first-year Garden City coach Brian Hill both understand the outside implications of a game between the two schools, but both are trying to downplay them.
"The biggest factor of the first game is simply the unknown. How will your kids react, and how will the other team react to situations?" Hill said. "We expect Scott City to come and play hard, play well. They don't beat themselves, so for us to win, we'll have to beat them."
O'Neil has tried to downplay the game, as well, recognizing that the community and others see it differently. But for him, the opener is a game to prepare for the long haul of the 2010 season.
"We would have preferred to get Garden in like the third or fourth week when we've had a chance to get our line developed, but we don't have that luxury," O'Neil said. "Our defense is certainly ahead of the offense simply because we've got so much inexperience up front."
O'Neil, though, does see the game as being important to both teams.
"It's a big game for a lot of reasons," O'Neil said. "We want to play well, we'll be the underdog on the road and our kids want to establish their own identity this season. What happened in the past really doesn't matter."
Hill also is wanting to focus on his new team, and not get caught up in the hype of the matchup.
"In all honesty, what happened that long ago doesn't really affect this game for me, the staff or the players," Hill said. "I'm mainly focused on us taking care of the things we have control over, and that will be to do the little things, keep our mistakes to a minimum.
"I'm excited, anxious and can't wait for the kickoff to get here. We want the community to come out and support these kids because we want them to see how hard these kids have worked.
The Beavers, coming off an 11-1 record and a fourth straight quarterfinal appearance in the Class 3A playoffs, are hoping to build on their past success and make a run deep into the playoffs again. O'Neil, who is 28-8 in his four seasons, welcomed back virtually his entire backfield, including quarterback Ron Baker, one of the best all-around athletes in western Kansas.
Baker passed for more than 1,100 yards for the Beavers after he was thrust into the starting lineup just one week before the 2009 season got under way due to the Beavers' starter, Dillon Stucky, going down with a season-ending knee injury.
Garden City, too, has its own motivation. The Buffs want to defend their home turf in what Hill hopes will be "one of the largest crowds to come out and support the Buffs in a long time."
The Buffs have their own case to make about quarterbacks in the area, too, as senior Cody Bernbeck returns for his final year after a banner junior season in which he passed for more than 1,700 yards and compiled more than 2,200 yards of offense.
Hill will be trying to turn around a program that has been mired in mediocrity for the past decade, going just 45-49 since the 1999 Class 6A state championship season under Dave Meadows.
To add significance to the game, consider that when Hill was hired by the Garden City High School administration last February, O'Neil was one of the remaining leading candidates and interviewed for the job.
"Bill Weatherly (then GCHS Athletics Director) called and asked me if I was interested, and I told him I was always interested in talking football," O'Neil said. "It was something I thought I should look at, but then I knew that I just wouldn't be able to be on the other sideline, coaching against the kids who I've worked with for the past several years. It just wouldn't have been right. And, as it turns out, they've got a great coach and person in Brian."
Hill downplayed the significance of the job search, as well.
"Glenn does a terrific job and it is not surprising to me that he was under consideration," Hill said.
Hill is especially interested to see how his young offensive line looks to open the season. Senior Zack Nichols is the lone starter returning to the Garden City offensive line, and Hill said the development of the new group will be pivotal to the team's success. It is on defense, though, where the Buffs return the most experience, with eight starters back.
"It does help to have that experience, and we want to be the type that forces things and causes problems for the offense," Hill said. "They've been aggressive in practice, and I know they're excited about getting out on the field and playing somebody else."
A year ago when all the Kansas high school athletic directors and coaches were in Salina to work on their schedules for the 2010-11 seasons, Scott City athletic director Randy Huck said then Garden City athletic director Bill Weatherly approached him late in the day with the open date in the season opener.
"I wasn't there," O'Neil said, "but I got a call that day from Randy, and he told me that we had Garden City for the opener. Well, that was good and bad news. The good news is that we don't have to travel far. The bad news is that we're playing a team that has a lot to prove."
According to O'Neil, several class 3A and 4A schools turned the Beavers down for the season opening game.
O'Neil said he, like Hill, expects a big crowd in attendance.
"We'll get good crowds from both places each year," O'Neil said. "I think it's a decent idea, and it will give us an idea of where we are early."
For many players on both teams, it will be an opportunity to renew competition that they once had when playing YMCA tackle football in Garden City in the third through sixth grades.
"A lot of the kids know each other from years before," O'Neil said. "I know coach Hill from watching the community college, and he recruited a bunch of my players when he was out there, so we're good friends and I have a lot of respect for him."
Hill, likewise, praised his colleague who will be on the opposite sideline.
"I've known Glenn for several years, and he does a great job," Hill said. "We will not be underestimating Scott City at all. They have a great program, terrific kids and we expect them to come at us with their best shot. We've got to be prepared."
What: Scott City Beavers at Garden City Buffaloes
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Memorial Stadium (field turf surface)
Series: Garden City leads 27-6-3
Last Meeting: 1964, Garden City 12-6
About the Coaches: Glenn O'Neil, Scott City (4th year, 28-8 record); Brian Hill, Garden City (1st year, 0-0, 1st game as a head coach)
Top Players: Scott City — Quarterback Ron Baker; fullback Jason Williams; running backs A.J. Kough, Dalton Buehler, Dalton Smith; tight end Luke Hayes; linebacker/center Jake Drohman. Garden City — Quarterback Cody Bernbeck; Halfback/wide receiver Raul Silva; offensive guard Zack Nichols; defensive end Keith Curran; cornerback Asa Gottsponer; defensive tackles Jacob Seyferth and Tony Rubio.
Next Games: Sept. 10, Garden City at Woodward, Okla., Scott City at Holcomb.