By BRETT MARSHALL
It had been 14 years and 10 lopsided games ago that Garden City's Buffaloes football team could stand toe-to-toe with one of the top football programs in Kansas.
That was when the Buffs had last toppled an up-and-coming Hutchinson Salthawks team, and then went on to claim the school's only state football championship.
That 1999 seasons seems like oh so long ago.
But all of those losses, all of the long road trips, and especially the 56-14 humbling they suffered in Hutchinson a year ago, were simply washed away and cleansed for the Buffs as they produced coach Brian Hill's "signature" victory with a come-from-behind 35-24 triumph on Friday night at Buffalo Stadium.
Greyson Tempel passed for three touchdowns, rushed for two more while Jared Koster rushed for 100 yards, Dusty Tempel caught 7 passes for 101 yards and a score. Mitch Hernandez and Zach Landgraf caught the other two TD passes from Tempel.
This was the victory that the 27 seniors had sought so desperately to produce, not only for themselves, but for their coaches, their school and their community.
"After last year, it was kinda personal," said wide receiver/defensive back Dusty Tempel, who, along with any number of Buffs, came up with big plays during the upset of the seven-time state champion Salthawks. "This is all about our team, how we feel about each other, how we support each other. We had to be more physical, we had to play harder, we had to want it more. It's really hard to put words to how this feels — but it feels amazing."
The Salthawks, much like the Buffs, had been hobbled by injuries for most of the 2013 season but had several of its starters healthy and back in the lineup for the Class 6A-District 8 battle. The win puts the Buffs in position to control their own destiny in the final regular season/district game next Friday when they host Dodge City in the annual Hatchet Game.
And as important as the win is to the Buffs, and to the continued growth of the program under Hill's tutelage, the win will go down as one that saw what Hill called "the true character" of his team put on display.
"I told the kids before that they had to leave it out on the field, and they did," Hill said. "You can't put a gauge on the character of these kids, especially those seniors. Every big play it just seemed like was being made by a senior. We had the best three practices we've had since I've been here (fourth season). This is the signature win we need to move the program forward."
But it didn't look like that was in the cards for the Buffs less than halfway into the third quarter.
After trailing just 10-7 at halftime and battling the Salthawks on near-even terms, the Buffs saw the vaunted veer offense grind out an eight-play, 80-yard drive that took just over three minutes when Jacob Hardenburger bulled his way in from four yards out, and Kassidy Lemons' kick made it 17-7 with 8:50 to go. Everything was going Hutch's way.
Or so it seemed.
Unlike its usual quick-strike efficiency, the Buffs did what Hutch typically does and responded with its own 71-yard, 14-play march that culminated on an improvised play by Greyson Tempel.
Facing first and goal at the Hutch 1-yard line, Tempel scooted to his left on an apparent option keeper, but instead of trying to race to the corner, he stopped, jumped up and passed directly into the hands of Zach Landgraf who had somehow worked his way into the end zone. When Ismael Hernandez added the PAT, it was 17-14 Hutch and 3:54 left in the quarter.
From there, it was game on and both teams showed that the game was going to go to the wire.
The biggest play of the game, perhaps, came on the ensuing Salthawk drive when they faced a fourth-and-one at their own 39. That's when quarterback Turner Wintz was hit and fumbled on a sneak with James Nguyen recovering for the Buffs.
"That just seemed to turn the tide for us," said senior cornerback Dozie Ekweariri, who later snuffed out the Salthawks last bid with an interception of Wintz in the final 1:10 of the game. "We made a lot of adjustments and I think we were able to contain them more than we did in the first half."
On the Buffs' third play, Hutch was whistled for a personal foul, putting the ball on the Salthawks' 26. Greyson Tempel then fired a picture-perfect post pattern pass to Mitch Hernandez, who had beaten the safety, for a score and it was 21-17 Garden with 1:16 still to play in the quarter.
As one might expect, Hutch responded like the champion it has been over the past decade, taking only five plays to move 67 yards, getting what would be its final TD on a razor-sharp strike from Wintz to Josh Patterson from 25 yards out. Lemons' PAT kick made it 24-21 with 11:55 remaining in the game.
From there, it was Garden's turn to take the momentum. A seven-play, 65-yard drive was culminated by Greyson Tempel on a 7-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play. Ismael Hernandez tacked on the PAT and it was 28-24 Buffs with just under 10 minutes to go.
Hutchinson was back on the march again, driving to the Buffs' 32 in four plays before Wintz' errant pitch to Patterson was eventually scooped up by Dusty Tempel at the 37.
Following a short completion from Greyson to Dusty, Hutch was flagged with a personal foul penalty, which was then followed by an unsportsmanlike 15-yarder against HHS coach Randy Dreiling. That moved the ball all the way to the Hutch 25, and two plays later, the Tempel brothers hooked up on a short out pattern that Dusty turned into a TD when he cut back to the inside and outraced the Hutch secondary to the end zone. There was 5:45 still to go and Buffalo Stadium was rocking.
Hutchinson's hopes for a rally came up empty on its final two possessions — the first when a fourth-and-eight pass fell incomplete and then Ekweariri's interception of Wintz in the final 70 seconds.
"The message (at halftime) was just to keep fighting," an elated, but exhausted Hill said. "The defense kept changing things because they kept changing their veer offense. In the long run, we matched their chess game and it's a credit to my coaches who did a great job. Randy (Dreiling) is the by far the greatest in-game coach to match wits with. Tonight's win from the offensive side, was all about the O-line. We had very little pressure, which allows our skill guys to do their things. They're the unsung players, but they are the reason we won this game."
The game's early scoring came on a 30-yard Lemons' field goal early in the first quarter when Garden's defense held after Greyson Tempel had thrown an interception deep in the Buffs' territory. Greyson Tempel made it a 7-3 first quarter score when he scored on a 4-yard option keeper just before the quarter ended.
Wintz was the game's leading rusher with 179 yards on 21 carries while Hardenburger finished with 106 yards on 23 attempts. Garden accounted for 438 yards of offense, 234 passing and 214 rushing while Hutch had 406, 318 of those on the ground.
The Buffs are now 5-3 overall and 1-1 in the district, while Hutch falls to 4-4 and 1-1. Next up for the Buffs will be Dodge City in the annual grudge game, while Hutch plays host to Maize High.
Hutchinson 3 7 7 7 -- 24
Garden City 7 0 14 14 -- 35
HUT--Kassidy Lemons 30 field goal, 9:10.
GC--Greyson Tempel 4 run (Ismael Hernandez kick), :02.2.
HUT--Jacob Hardenburger 12 run (Lemons kick), 1:26.
HUT--Hardenburger 4 run (Lemons kick), 8:50.
GC--Zach Landgraf 1 pass from G. Tempel (Hernandez kick), 3:54.
GC--Mitch Hernandez 26 pass from G. Tempel (Hernandez kick), 1:16.
GC--G. Tempel 7 run (Hernandez kick), 9:48.
GC--Dusty Tempel 25 pass from G. Tempel (Hernandez kick), 5:45.
First downs 20 21
Rushes-yards 51-318 41-214
Passing yards 88 224
Passes 5-14-1 15-22-1
Fumbles-lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-yards 5-65 3-25
Punts-avg. 1-43.0 3-42.0
RUSHING--Hutchinson: Garcia 5-27, Wintz 21-179, Patterson 2-6, Hardenburger 23-106; Garden City: G. Tempel 19-98, Koster 19-100, Landgraf 1-8, Chiddix 1-0.
PASSING--Hutchinson: Wintz 5-14-1--88; Garden City: G. Tempel 14-21-1--187, M. Hernandez 1-1-0--37.
RECEIVING--Hutchinson: Garcia 2-20, Patterson 3-68; Garden City: D. Tempel 7-101, M. Hernandez 3-60, Norquest 1-8, Espinosa 3-26, Landgraf 1-1.