By BRETT MARSHALL
To nobody's surprise, Week 1 of the high school football season provided what some might call a "great start" for the "Great West."
As in the Great West Activities Conference.
Consider these results:
Class 3A Scott City went on the road to face perennial 4A power Abilene and rolling over the Cowboys, 51-20, after putting the game away with a 39-6 halftime advantage.
Class 3A Holcomb held on to beat Class 2-1A state contender Meade, 28-27, in perhaps one of the most exciting games of the season-opening week.
Add in Class 4A, where Ulysses rallied from a 21-3 deficit to beat Class 5A Liberal, 43-27.
Throw in Class 4A Colby's 20-15 victory over a good 2A Oakley team, and it's no surprise that everybody is seeing the benefits of this league, now in its third year of existence.
"No, I'm not surprised at the results," Ulysses coach Jason Kenny said on Tuesday. "We've got some programs that have had a history of success, making deep runs in the playoffs. This year, we've got some great athletes, and I think we've always had good coaches."
Kenny, coaching his 13th season with the Tigers, was especially proud of the way his young group hung in there despite falling behind the Redskins, and considering that it was on the road only added to the satisfaction of watching his team come back to win.
"I was proud of how resilient our kids were," Kenny said. "They didn't give up when they got down. We just kept fighting back and fighting back. I thought our conditioning in the fourth quarter was really a big factor. It paid off big for us."
For Holcomb coach Jerry Johnson, in his seventh year at the helm of the Longhorns, Friday's win ranks among the best he's had in his time at the school.
"I think most people would say the biggest surprise (on Friday) would be us," Johnson said. "Ulysses is always a good program, and I guess I'm not that surprised that they beat Liberal. Scott City is one of the dominant teams in 3A. I don't know too much about Oakley, but Colby's got a lot of experience in their running backs, and they've got speed."
Johnson said that since discussions began back in 2008 to form the new league, he felt it would be one of the premier 3A-4A leagues in Kansas.
"The competition in the GWAC is tough," Johnson said. "We were excited about joining the conference at the time, and I don't think that's changed. We've got some of the best talent in western Kansas, and you have to be ready to play week in, week out. There's no weeks you can just take off and say we'll win this one easily."
Johnson said his team's ability to finish at the end was one of the most satisfying parts of beating the Buffaloes.
"The finish that we had, finishing games off, was one thing that we've stressed," Johnson said. "We struggled with that last year. When we fell behind last year, the kids kind of panicked a year ago. Friday night, we struggled early, but the kids hung in there. They came back out and played a sound second half, took the lead and maintained it. It's nice to see that we could stay tough and finish."
For Scott City coach Glenn O'Neil, who has guided the Beavers to four 3A quarterfinal games in five seasons, the win at Abilene was perhaps not unexpected. But the margin of victory exceeded his expectation.
"The thing that I liked about how our kids played was that we drove three and a half hours, got out of the bus, played in 94-degree heat and humidity and dominated both sides of the ball," O'Neil said. "I'm pleased with our conditioning, considering that we had no scrimmage under the lights (a storm wiped out many southwest Kansas schools' scrimmages on Aug. 24)."
The Beavers rolled to a 17-0 first-quarter lead and extended it to 39-6 by halftime.
O'Neil, too, was not surprised at the performances of his fellow GWAC coaches and their teams.
"Overall, I knew the top three teams were gonna be pretty good," O'Neil said of Ulysses, Holcomb and his own team. "It's a big victory for Holcomb and coach Johnson. I don't know how good Liberal is, but I know Ulysses exploded in the second half and they're always good. Colby might have been a minor surprise, but there's just good teams and good athletes in the league. It's always a battle."
There was one other game that involved GWAC teams as Goodland defeated Hugoton, 24-13, at Hugoton in the league opener. So, as it is in the GWAC, there was one team with a loss, this one at the expense of another league foe.
On Friday, it will be Holcomb hosting Hugoton, Scott City travels to Colby and Ulysses is at home against another Class 5A Western Athletic Conference team in Great Bend. Looming on the horizon are the Sept. 14 Holcomb-Scott City game and Sept. 21 Ulysses-Scott City contest. On Oct. 5, Holcomb travels to Ulysses. Once the district playoff three-game schedule begins in October, Holcomb, Scott City and Ulysses will battle elsewhere for postseason playoff positions.