By KEVIN THOMPSON
Controlling their own destiny. Taking care of business.
Reclaiming the hatchet. Making the playoffs.
Four goals set. Four goals reached as Garden City dominated rival Dodge City 41-20 at Buffalo Stadium in the 76th version of the Hatchet Game and 115th all-time.
The 21-point win and a narrow Hutchinson win over Maize clinched the district's second spot for a Buffalo team that has come into its own the past two weeks.
The Buffs' defense stopped Dodge City on fourth-and-4 with 1:33 left in the game.
A Red Demon touchdown would have thwarted Garden City's chances to make the playoffs based on the district margin point tiebreaker system.
The win sent 26 Garden City seniors from their final regular home game winners, a dramatic turnaround from last year's 24-20 loss in Dodge City.
"This means so much. That was such a crappy feeling last year coming off the field without the hatchet," senior quarterback Greyson Tempel said. "This means so much to our community and our school. It's an unbelievable feeling."
Senior defenseman Kelton Uthe added, "It's incredible. Senior year, getting the hatchet back — it's the biggest thing for me personally, and we did it."
While Garden City (6-3, 2-1 in district, 3-1 and co-champions of the WAC with Hays) dominated offensively (out-gaining the Red Demons 463 yards to 302) it was the defensive unit that literally secured the win for the Buffaloes as they set a team record with five sacks (two by Uthe) and held Dodge City to just 5-of-16 on third down conversions and stopped them seven times on fourth downs.
Tempel, who ran for two scores and threw for two more, said afterwards, "Our defense that second half, they saved us."
That defense held Dodge City to just 68 yards on 35 carries, forcing the Red Demons to go to the air, where they were just 22-of-44.
Garden City's six scoring drives totaled only 19 plays and lasted just six minutes and two seconds in combined minutes.
Things just went their way, Tempel said.
"We didn't know what defense they were going to come out in, but after that first series we figured out what they were going to do and kept attacking them. Everything was clicking in that first half," he said.
That meant the defense was on the field a lot, but Uthe said it didn't matter in a game of this importance.
"It came down to the passion and who wanted it the most," he said. "And we did."
Since the loss to Maize two weeks earlier, Uthe said, the growth in the Buffaloes defense has been huge.
"We're able to stop passing. We're good at stopping the run," he said. "I can't be prouder of my defense. It's awesome."
Coach Brian Hill was all praise for the defense.
"The front seven played outstanding," he said. "We got beat sometimes. As many times as they throw the football, they're going to complete some passes. Our kids did a great job of staying in coverage and kept fighting."
Tempel ran for a team-high 139 yards, as expected, but sophomore Jarod Koster carried 21 times for 119 yards and two scores, his third straight 100-yard game.
"He's really come into his own the last couple weeks," Hill said of Koster. "Since the second half at Maize, when he had a big run, he's really understanding what's going on."
After a Garden City fumble on the second play of the game, the defense held Dodge City to a long field goal.
"When it happens that early in the game, you can't over-react," he said. "When the defense holds them to three points, that's a win."
On Dodge City's next possession, Garden City's Nalen Rincones recovered a Blaik Middleton fumble, setting up a short field for the Buffs.
Tempel scored his first touchdown to cap a 1:26, 5-play drive on third-and-goal to jump start the offense.
Tempel hit Caleb Tramp, who missed last week's game due to illness, for a 61-yard strike over two defenders. Three plays later, Koster scored from two yards out.
That drive took just 1:16 off the clock. The defense held the Demons to four downs, forcing a punt.
On the fourth play of the next drive, Koster raced 55 yards, breaking a tackle up the sideline for a 21-3 lead.
Garden City's defense forced another four-play turnover on downs, and Tempel called his own number three times, accounting for all 61 yards in a scoring drive that consumed all of 61 seconds and the Buffs held a 28-6 lead at intermission.
The Demons came out strong, running a 10-play drive ending in a 4-yard Kelan Newton to Jace Larson touchdown connection.
On the ensuing kickoff, though, Dustin Tempel returned the ball 71 yards to the Demon's 21-yard line, and Mitchell Hernandez scored on what started as a screen pass and ended up a touchdown on the next play.
Up 41-13 and with the hatchet secured, Garden City turned its attention to point differential, needing at least 21 to claim a playoff berth.
Middleton cut that lead to 21 with a 5-yard run with 7:31 to play.
Dodge City recovered an onside kick, but the Buff's defense stood tall, led by Uthe's second sack.
Garden City punted on its next series and the Demons had 80 yards to go with 3:34 remaining.
Seven plays later, Dodge City was at Garden's 38, but on fourth-and-4, the defense forced an errant pass, and all the Buffs needed to do was run out the clock for the win.
Dodge City still leads the hatchet series (48-27-1) and the overall series (71-41-3), but for the present, a win feels really good to the Buffs.
"It took a full community effort today," Hill said. "Our kids felt like this was a community win. We know this is a game that means a lot more than just for our football team or school. We're happy that for the next 365 days that trophy will sit in our school."
The Buffs will take their show on the road next Friday for the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs.
Pairings will be announced today and can be found at www.kshsaa.org.
Dodge City 3 3 7 7 -- 20
Garden City 7 21 7 6 -- 41
DC--Dillon Burkhard 51 field goal, 10:26. 0-3.
GC--Greyson Tempel 9 run (Ismael Hernandez kick), 4:09. 7-3.
GC--Jared Koster 2 run (Hernandez kick), 11:46. 14-3.
GC--Koster 55 run (Hernandez kick), 8:58. 21-3.
GC--G. Tempel 29 run (Hernandez kick), 6:05. 28-3.
DC--Burkhard 25 field goal, 1:30. 28-6.
DC--Jace Larson 4 pass from Kelan Newton (Burkhard kick), 8:07. 28-13.
GC--Mitchell Hernandez 21 pass from G. Tempel (Hernandez kick), 7:46. 35-13.
GC--Dusty Tempel 32 pass from G. Tempel (kick failed), 11:53. 41-13.
DC--Blaik Middleton 5 run (Burkhard kick), 7:31. 41-20.
First downs 15 17
Rushes-yards 35-68 38-257
Passing yards 244 198
Passes (Com-Att-Int) 22-40-0 11-17-0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 4-20 5-45
RUSHING--Dodge City: Newton 11-(-3), Middleton 22-69, Bartel 1-2, Lomas 1-0. Garden City: G. Tempel 17-139, Koster 21-119.
PASSING--Dodge City: Newton 22-40-0--244. Garden City: G. Tempel 11-17-0--198.
RECEIVING--Dodge City: Larson 6-69, Galloway 5-54, Unruh 4-22, Reid 3-45, Middleton 4-54. Garden City: D. Tempel 5-73, M. Hernandez 2-32, Tramp 3-93, Koster 1-0.