Editor's Note:This is the seventh in a series 10 stories counting down the top sports stories of 2013 as voted on by The Telegram staff.
By BRETT MARSHALL
It had been a work in progress during the first three years of the Brian Hill tenure as the head football coach at Garden City High School.
The former Garden City Community College offensive coordinator had watched his team compile records of 5-5, 7-3 and 5-4 in his first three seasons, earning postseason berths in two of those. And only once had the team won a playoff game, and that against a mediocre Wichita South team in 2011.
The Buffs muffed their opportunity at making the 2012 playoffs, falling to rival Dodge City in the season finale at Dodge City and missing out by a single point of extending their season.
Fast forward to 2013 and the Buffs, with a large senior class leading the way, set out to prove that they had listened to their coach, followed his guiding hand through their entire high school football career.
"I told them when I first took the job (2010) that they would be judged, and I would be judged, four years down the road, at the end of their senior seasons," Hill said in the aftermath of the team's 8-4 record.
But what made the 2013 run all the more remarkable is that the team, despite being saddled with injuries before and during the season, picked up the pieces and marched their way to the Class 6A state semifinals, before losing to eventual state champion Derby.
"I'm really excited about how far we went, the way the kids performed," Hill said at the end of the season. "It goes all the way back to the way they prepared. It was very exciting and the kids, the senior leadership, took ahold a couple of times during the season, and I was very proud of what they did each and every week."
As it seems to have happened with previous Hill-coached GCHS teams, they were a little slow getting out of the starting blocks. By the end of the third week, the Buffs were 1-2, losing a tough opener on the road to Bixby, Okla. (32-27), before coming home to barely squeak out a last-minute win over a good Woodward, Okla. squad (35-34).
The opening game of the Western Athletic Conference proved to be one of those challenges that Hill talked about. For unexplainable reasons, the Buffs simply weren't ready, and they fell behind 20-0 before nearly rallying. But they came up on the short end of a 28-25 score, and they were headed to preseason WAC favorite Hays that next week.
For as difficult as it was for Hill to figure out the Great Bend loss, it might just have been the same perplexing explanation for the 35-0 rout of the Indians in week four. And due to rain and lightning in the area, the two coaches and administrators agreed to call the game off at halftime. It was one of the most impressive performances in a half in many years for the Buffs.
The Buffs were using multiple new players on the defensive side of the ball due to injuries. So they had to rely on a high-powered offense which was ignited by senior quarterback Greyson Tempel.
Tempel had one of the finest seasons of any player in Kansas in 2013.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, accounted for roughly 80 percent of the Buffs' season offense, passing for 2,535 yards and 26 touchdowns, while also rushing for 1,352 yards (7.1 average) and 19 TDs. He had record-setting receivers in brother Dusty (58 catches, 973 yards, 9 TDs) and 6-5 wide receiver Caleb Tramp (55 catches, 1,102 yards, 12 TDs). Dusty Tempel set school marks in single season receptions, career receptions (97) and career yards (1,565). Tramp set an all-time school mark in receiving yards, TDs and now stands fourth in career yards with one more year to play.
Greyson established nine new school records for game, season and career. His season bests were 420 total yards versus Woodward; 366 passing yards against Wichita Northwest in a late-game rally in the 6A playoffs (35-28); and set single season records for TDs in both passing and rushing.
"These kids play video games, and the numbers that Greyson put up are almost Playstation stats," Hill said. "I've never coached a dual-threat QB who when people say it, say that a player can do one really well, but the other pretty well. He can truly do both (passing and running)."
The Buffs headed into the district playoffs and were on the road at Maize, where they ran into another buzzsaw, falling behind 19-0 at halftime, and then rallying but coming up short in a 40-24 loss.
Hill had said the week of the Hutchinson game at home that the Buffs needed a signature win, not only to beat an established team, but to remain in the hunt for the playoff spots.
He got both.
After falling behind 17-7 early in the third, the Buffs rallied once again and came up with a sterling 35-24 win. That set the stage for the season finale and the annual Hatchet Game.
Before an overflow crowd at Buffalo Stadium and a statewide telecast by Cox 22, the Buffs rolled the Red Demons, 41-20, and the margin proved critical as they nudged out Hutch by just a few points for that runner-up spot and a trip to the postseason.
Their next dramatic victory came against Northwest, rallying from multiple deficits to score the winning TD in the final minute for a 40-36 triumph that allowed them to come home for the second round of the playoffs.
Powerhouse Wichita Heights was next up, and the teams traded TDs throughout the game, with the Buffs finally answering with another come-from-behind triumph, this one a 35-28 thriller.
That set the table for taking on the No. 1-ranked and preseason favorite Derby Panthers at the Panthers' home lair. On a frigid night with the wind chill in the teens, the banged-up, injury-ravaged Buffs were no match, falling 55-17.
But the corner had been turned in the rebuilding of the GCHS football program. Hill was right in what he told his seniors four years prior before their freshman season. They would be judged, and they passed with flying colors.