By BRETT MARSHALL
The "Tale of the Tape" might be the better way to describe Saturday night's Class 4A regional championship between Hugoton and Buhler.
And for good reason.
Both teams enter the showdown with juggernaut offenses and stingy defenses. What will give? Well, neither coach — Buhler's Steve Warner or Hugoton's Clint Merritt, could give a definitive answer.
"They're very sound and execute their offense extremely well," Warner said of the Eagles. "They're very physical, have good athletes and they run their option offense very well."
What they both acknowledge, though, is the team on the opposite side of the football knows how to score points.
Buhler (9-1) has averaged 54.3 points, while Hugoton averages 44.9. Defensively, the Crusaders give up 16.8 points and the Eagles 6.7.
"They're a big football team (offensive line averages 226 pounds), they have very good skill position kids and they have played some of the best teams in Class 4A," Merritt said. "There's no doubt that most people think of them as one of the top two teams in the state."
The biggest task facing the Eagles' defense is stopping the Crusaders' running back Jorden Oden. At 5-foot-7, 195-pounds, Oden has rushed for 2,274 yards and scored 36 touchdowns.
"They run out of the I-formation so that gets (Oden) a lot of touches," Merritt said. "He's got good size, great speed and his vision to be able to bounce outside are his strong points. We're going to have to contain him if we want to have a chance."
Oden, though, is not the only offensive weapon for Buhler. Senior quarterback Jake Reffner has rushed for 859 yards and scored 11 touchdowns, while also completing 44-of-74 passes for 686 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's been intercepted just four times. His favorite receiver has been senior Brad Wimer who has 16 receptions for 307 yards and seven TDs.
"There's no doubt they're the best team we will have faced," Merritt said. "Our kids have embraced the challenge and this will be a great measuring stick for how our program has progressed over the four years we've been here."
The Eagles have gone from a 1-8 start in 2006 when Merritt took over the program. Hugoton won one game in 2007 before breaking through to post a 6-3 record a year ago, missing the playoffs on the final week of the regular season.
This year, though, the seniors who have grown through the rough times and now are basking in the best Hugoton football season in a quarter century.
"A computer can't measure character and heart and I know our kids will go and get after them," Merritt said. "We've got to control the ball and are going to have to do that and keep the ball out of their hands."
While the Crusaders average 443 yards rushing and another 73 passing, the Eagles, too, have a dominant offense. Four times they have scored more than 60 points this year and the defense has limited opponents to less than a touchdown per game.
"They like sustained drives," Warner said of Hugoton's strategy. "Against a good football team, we've got to keep the ball out of their hands, too."
Warner has been pleased with his team's season, saying that Oden has allowed others to thrive this year as well.
"Jorden is an exceptional runner for us," Warner said. "He finds holes well, he can run over you or outrun you or juke you. He's definitely been our workhorse."
Warner said that he sees many similiarties between his quarterback, Reffner, and Hugoton signal caller Zach Dunlap, also a senior.
"Dunlap makes good reads, makes good decisions and runs the option well," Warner said. "We've got to be assignment sound on defense to stop their option. They haven't had to throw much but when they have, they've been very successful. If we can force them into throwing, then we'll see how that works."
Merritt realizes his team may have to put the ball in the air more often Saturday than it has has during the season.
"It's something we work on every day, every week of practice," Merritt said. "We haven't had to throw much but I'm confident that if we have to, our guys will do a good job. Our line has been great for us all season and we'll just see how we do."
Merritt said most people don't give the Eagles a chance to win makes it easier for the team to be motivated.
"Our kids don't feel any pressure," Merritt said. "They know the game plan, they know what they have to do. We have a small group of people here who know they're not gonna back down. They're okay with being the underdog."
For Hugoton's offense do be successful against the bigger Crusaders, the Eagles' line will have to step up and block wel. It will open the way for senior running backs Caleb Gifford and Keithan Martin to find openings in the Buhler defense. Gifford has run for 1,575 yards and 24 touchdowns this season while Martin has netted 907 yards and 14 TDs. Dunlap has added in 505 rushing yards and Bubba Beltz another 539. Of Dunlap's 15 pass completions in 31 attempts, seven of them have resulted in touchdowns.
The winner of Saturday night's game advances to the 4A sectional next Friday and will take on the winner of the Abilene-Rose Hill contest.
LEAGUE: Ark Valley Chisholm Trail - III
HEAD COACH: Steve Warner
OVERALL RECORD: 9-1
El Dorado 57-0
Andover Central 48-13
Saturday vs Hugoton, 7 p.m.
LEAGUE: Hi-Plains, Division II
Coach: Clint Merritt
OVERALL RECORD: 10-0
Stanton Co. W 48-6
LAKIN W 47-7
at Guymon, Okla. W 24-3
SW Heights W 66-14
Cimarron W 61-0
Holcomb W 62-6
Pratt W 21-0
Kingman W 65-0
Ulysses W 20-19
Clearwater W 35-12
Saturday, at Buhler, 7 p.m.