With a multitude of newcomers in the starting lineup, there were many reasons why Garden City High School coach Brian Hill was unsure how his squad would perform in the 2017 season opener Friday night.
It wasn’t just that it was the first game of the season, but it also was on the road at Wichita East.
While the Buffs’ offense sputtered much of the night, the defense was the stalwart in a 24-0 shutout of the Blue Aces, marking the third consecutive year Hill has watched his team win an opener after his first five teams had suffered a first week setback.
“I was impressed with the relentless nature that they gave all night long,” Hill said of his team’s defense. “With as many three-and-outs that our offense had, we put them right back out on the field. It was muggy, and they just went back out and gave a great effort.”
That defensive effort limited East to just three first downs, 13 passing yards and 74 rushing yards on 38 attempts. Sophomore defensive back Carlos Acosta had a pair of interceptions to highlight the secondary’s effort. Defensive end Jasper Partin led in tackles with eight, including five solos, one sack and a pair of tackles for losses.
“He has a high motor and he’s like the energizer bunny,” Hill said of Partin.
Seventeen points in the second quarter broke open a scoreless first period between the two teams, which struggled mightily to get any semblance of offense under way.
The Buffs, in fact, had 95 passing yards in the first half, thanks to a pair of Garret Doll to Andrew Kreutzer touchdown passes.
But a minus-31 yards on the ground in the first half made things difficult for the Buffs to get any balance on the offensive side of the ball, something Hill was focused on accomplishing.
“Wichita East plays a high risk, high reward style of defense,” Hill said. “They’re gonna come after you, and we’re a team that does a lot of one-on-one blocking, so it throws you off your rhythm, and it is difficult to get any consistency. Overall, I thought we handled a lot of their stuff reasonably well.”
The third quarter resembled the first in many ways, with both offenses sputtering. The Buffs really never got much of a running game established, while the Aces pretty much had their passing game silent.
In the final analysis, however, Hill was happy to get the win, see some bright spots in a number of players, and had high praise for his defense, which pitched its first shutout since week four of 2016 when they blanked Hays, 34-0.
“With as many new faces we had out there, when you don’t have any experience in a varsity game, things move faster,” Hill said. “Small mistakes turn into big ones. That’s the lesson we learned tonight.”
Hill also had high praise for Doll, making his first start under center. He was 10 for 24 for 160 yards, with three touchdowns and two picks.
“I thought he played outstanding for his first varsity start,” Hill said. “He stood in there, took some shots and completed some tough passes.”
Hill said the offensive game plan was to get the ball into Kreutzer’s hands since he was the team’s most experienced receiver.
“Andrew did a great job, and he runs his routes so well,” Hill said. “He made some good catches, so I’m not surprised what he did.”
The third and final TD connection between Doll and Kreutzer came from 12 yards out early in the fourth, and Anthony Flores tacked on the PAT boot to cap off the scoring.
At the end of the night, Hill said the biggest thing was getting a win, something he’ll never apologize for.
“These kids have worked too hard,” Hill said. “It wasn’t a thing of beauty, and maybe not what we’ve been used to. Most teams make the biggest improvement from week one to two, so we’ve got work to do. This was a new experience for most of these kids, and we found out a lot about ourselves.”
Both teams stumbled out of the blocks in the opening quarter, with the Buffs fumbling away the ball once and East coughing it up twice.
While the Buffs were able to keep East’s offense at bay with an aggressive defense, the Blue Aces weren’t so fortunate.
With both offenses struggling, the teams ended the opening quarter locked in a scoreless battle that at times looked like the hapless versus the hopeless.
Doll, making his debut at quarterback after playing cornerback the past two seasons, hit Kreutzer for a pair of touchdowns in the early portion of the second quarter.
The first came on a wide screen from 25 yards out to the left, with Kreutzer getting a couple of key blocks that broke him open and it was a race to the end zone. But Flores’ PAT kick was blocked, leaving the Buffs up 6-0 with 11:52 to go in the half.
It didn’t take long for the next golden goose to land in the Buffs’ lap.
On the ensuing kickoff, East’s Promice McDaniel fumbled the ball, with Garden’s Heron Lira recovering at the Aces 13.
One play later, it was Doll hitting Kreutzer on a perfectly-executed slant pattern from the right over the middle and Kreutzer made a one-handed grab and landed in the end zone. On the try for two points, Carlos Acosta took the snap, veered out to the right and found a wide open Derrick Sexton, making it 14-0 just 15 seconds after the first TD.
The Buffs scored once more before intermission, this coming late in the second when a drive stalled inside the red zone on another fumble by Doll, only to have DeMarcus Elliott recover. That put the ball back at the 10, and Flores booted a 27-yard field goal through, giving the Buffs their 17-0 lead at the break.
The Buffs will return home on Friday to play host to Castle View, Colo., with kickoff set for 7 p.m. at Buffalo Stadium.