By BRETT MARSHALL
It would be a safe bet to say that both Brian Hill and Terry Harrison are happy to be preparing their respective football teams for Friday's Class 6A sectional championship battle at Buffalo Stadium.
Why wouldn't the head coaches of the Garden City Buffaloes and Wichita Heights Falcons have smiles on their faces following shootouts in their respective regional games last Friday night?
While the Buffs were hanging on to defeat Wichita Northwest, 40-36, at Northwest, Harrison's Falcons were in another high-scoring affair at Topeka High, winning that cliffhanger, 55-48.
Now the teams face off for the third time in four seasons in the postseason, with Heights winning easily in both 2010 and 2011, Hill's first two seasons in charge of the Garden City program. Harrison was then the defensive coordinator under legendary coach Rick Wheeler, and now, after being Wheeler's understudy, is in charge of the Falcons.
Both teams are 7-3 and both have signature wins, as well as losses that might have had different outcomes had it not been for turnovers and missed opportunities.
But each coach, just 48 to 72 hours after the Friday night fireworks, could put those games aside and prepare for round two.
"I was actually surprised at the big scores across the state," Harrison said in a Monday telephone interview. "I think a lot of that might have to do with unfamiliarity of teams with each other. Offensively, defensively, if you don't see a team often, you really don't know what all they're gonna do. We had been pretty good defensively all season until Friday night."
Hill, too, said he couldn't recall a Friday night like the recent one. The Buffs, in fact, were in a back-and-forth, yo-yo-like scoring explosion with the Grizzlies of Northwest, a team they had not seen in four years.
"We struggled all night in trying to stop their offense, and didn't do that very often," Hill said of his defense that was riddled for more than 400 yards. "After our game, I heard about some of the others and just kinda wondered what was going on."
What was going on was this:
Lawrence-Free State scored 40 points in its win over Shawnee Mission Northwest; Shawnee Mission East put up 36 points in a rout of Leavenworth; and the best of the best was Manhattan's 60-59, five-overtime thriller over Maize. Only a 14-3 Olathe North win and a 19-7 Olathe East victory had any resemblance to a good, old-fashioned defensive struggle.
That said, Harrison still is scratching his head at giving up so many points and yards (396), especially considering his team had been giving up just 15 points per game.
"Well, part of it is that Topeka has some really outstanding players and caused us a lot of problems," Harrison said. "But we're gonna have to improve some things if we want to come away with a win on Friday."
The Buffs, too, will have to shore up some areas in preparing for the run-oriented Falcons.
"We're excited to be able to come home and have another game at Buffalo Stadium for the seniors, for the school, for the community and the area," Hill said of the 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday. "We haven't had that many opportunities to play in the second week, so we're excited for this game."
In fact, the Buffs haven't won a second-round playoff game since 2005, when they knocked off Wichita Northwest at home (21-12) before losing to Hutchinson (32-15) in the state semifinals. Since then, the only playoff win for the Buffs was the 35-7 first-round home win in 2011 against Wichita South. Heights has manhandled the Buffs the last two times they've played (49-7 in 2010 en route to the 6A state title), and 35-3 (2011 second round).
"We want a big crowd, a noisy crowd," Hill said. "It's a big advantage. Even the road noise (US Highway 83/50 by-pass) can be a help. The crowd can make a big difference."
Game notes: There will be no advanced ticket sales for the playoff game, and GCHS season ticket holders will not be guaranteed their normal seat. General admission tickets, which are $5 for students and $6 for adults, will go on sale at 5 p.m. when the gates open, according to GCHS Athletic Director Martin Segovia.