By BRETT MARSHALL
DODGE CITY — There hasn't been much difference between the Garden City Buffaloes and Dodge City Red Demons boys' soccer teams this season.
There wasn't much difference in their first meeting here on Sept. 24 when the Demons blanked the Buffs 2-0.
There wasn't much difference in their rematch Western Athletic Conference battle on Oct. 3 in Garden City, a 3-2 overtime thriller in favor of the Buffs.
And on Thursday, at Dodge's Memorial Stadium, there was little difference once again between these two rivals.
It was Dodge City, though, that came up with the all-important first goal of the game in the 58th minute, which proved to be the narrowest but all the difference in a 1-0 win for the Regional Championship of Class 6A.
The loss stung the Buffs, who had just edged the Demons for the WAC championship a week earlier thanks to a late season win by Liberal over Dodge.
"We knew that the team that might score the first goal, might be the team to win," said a reflective GCHS coach Joaquin Padilla. "Unfortunately, they're the ones that scored it."
The second round of the playoffs hasn't been kind to the Buffs in recent seasons, and on this Halloween night, there seemed to be all the mystic forces working against them.
The last time the Buffs captured a regional title was 2006 (they also accomplished the feat in 2003), and this one-goal loss was the third consecutive time the Buffs saw their season end at this stage of the playoffs.
They had lost in double overtime to Derby in 2012, a penalty kick shootout loss to Maize in 2011 and a 1-0 loss to the same Dodge City group in 2010.
There was no masking the heartbreak on the faces of the Buffs as they left the turf of Dodge's stadium.
"This was the game that mattered the most," said David Fuentes, one of six GCHS seniors to see their career come to an end. "It was 1-1 and this was to settle the score. We just couldn't get it done, and it's really just a tough one."
The lone goal came from Dodge midfielder Isaac Palma, who dribbled down the right side, and somehow got a medium-powered shot to slide by Garden goalkeeper Isreal Reyes and slip inside the left post.
With just 22 minutes and change remaining, Garden tried everything it could to tie the score and perhaps get it to overtime.
But nothing worked. The best opportunities came from Gilberto Tovar, who just missed wide right after getting a backfooted pass from Eric Barragan with about 12 minutes remaining. Sebastian Kyaw and Luis Guzman also had good looks but shot just high over the crossbar.
"They're pretty good defensively and it's hard to square up against them," Fuentes said. "It's just tough to lose this way. We've lost in the second round and it's just disappointing."
The Buffs finished with 12 shots, while the Demons had 11. The Demons had a couple of near-misses, one hitting the crossbar and one goal that was erased by an offsides penalty with 3:20 left in the game that would have made it 2-0. In the 73rd minute, Garden's Alex Vasquez stopped Dodge's Brandon Chavez on a breakaway. Reyes had one save for the game, while Dodge's Pablo Landa had two.
The loss finished an otherwise stellar season as the Buffs finished 13-5-0.
"Overall, we had a very good season," Padilla said. "We matched up pretty good with them. We knew if somebody got a break that it would be tough for the other team. We allowed them the middle, and we could have done a better job there. But, there's not much difference in the teams."
Dodge advances to the quarterfinals on Tuesday, most likely against Manhattan, a 2-1 winner over Topeka-Washburn Rural. The Demons appear to be the No. 2 seed for the quarterfinals after Thursday's regional championships. Derby defeated Hutchinson, 4-1, while Wichita East upset No. 1 overall seed Wichita Northwest, 2-0.
Garden City 0 0 -- 0
Dodge City 0 1 -- 1
DC--Isaac Palma, unassisted, 58th minute
Shots--Garden City 12, Dodge City 11. Saves--Garden City (Reyes 1), Dodge City (Landa 2). Corner kicks--Garden City 2, Dodge City 2. Penalties--Dodge City (Lopez yellow card, 53rd minute).