There’s not a superstitious bone in Garden City Buffaloes football coach Brian Hill’s body.
The eighth-year mentor for the Buffs said there really wasn’t anything he believed that could be put into the category of superstition.
Winning streaks? Nope. Losing skids? Not a bit. A trend of successes or failures against other coaches? Not even the slightest.
So on Friday, when Hill takes his 4-0 Buffs an hour south to Liberal, there’s only thing on his mind when they take on the 3-1 Redskins at 7:30 p.m.
“We want to go down there, play to the best of our ability and come home with a win,” Hill said. “That’s the important thing. Not how. Not by how many. Just win the game.”
It’s something Hill’s teams have become accustomed to — with his career mark now at 49-24 just at the mid-point of the season — especially against Liberal, with Hill's Buffs a perfect 7-0.
When he looks across the field to the Liberal sideline, he will see Jason Dunlap as the Redskins’ head coach, the fourth coach he has faced during his time with GCHS.
He first went against Wade Standley for one year (2010), then three years each versus Cliff Abbott (2011-13) and Caleb Cline (2014-16), and now Dunlap.
“It’s been against different staffs with different styles, but you just prepare the same way no matter who’s there,” Hill said of Dunlap, who has seen the Redskins win against Ulysses, Guymon, Okla., and Wichita North while suffering its lone setback against Hays (20-0). “Each team, each staff presents a new challenge. It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past. We’ll just prepare to play our best on Friday.”
So far, during his run with the Buffs, Hill-coached teams have had their way with the Redskins, winning the seven games by a margin of 31.4 points (46.8 to 15.4).
“They’re a much-improved team over the teams we’ve seen there in recent years,” Hill said of the Redskins.
Liberal’s Dunlap, a former player at LHS, is in his first season at the Redskin helm, and he has watched his offense put up 40-plus points in two of the three LHS victories (21-12 over Ulysses, 49-3 over Guymon, Okla., and 40-6 most recently at Wichita North).
The Redskins have done it mostly with a crunching ground attack, with quarterback Syris Dunlap (coach’s son, 5-10, 155, So.) leading the way with 399 yards on the ground and having scored nine touchdowns.
“They spread it (carries) around and they’ve got good athletes,” Hill said of Liberal’s offense. “They’re big up front and they certainly pose a threat. If they get out, and get in a gap, they can make you pay with six points.”
On the passing side of the offense, Dunlap has completed 23-of-47 aerials for 267 yards, with two TDs with four interceptions.
Backfield running mate Alan Marquez is close behind with 377 yards while Tyrique Chandler tops the receiving corps with 113 yards. Another receiver, Jett Brown, leads the team with nine catches for 85 yards.
Defensively, Hill said he sees the Redskins as a much different team as well.
“They’ve been very steady and they play hard, and they’ve done that against different styles of offense,” Hill said. “They’ve been able to adjust and defend well. Their defensive line is much better than they’ve been in years.”
In recent blowout wins over the Redskins, the Buffs have been able to break long plays, both on the ground and in the air. It might not be so easy this time around.
“They’re not giving up the big plays, in part because they’re not breaking down like they have in the past,” Hill said. “They’re getting people in the right places and limiting anything long.”
Of his own team, Hill said he has yet to see the best out of the 2017 edition.
“I don’t think, by far, that we’ve played our best football,” Hill stated. “We’ve had moments of playing really well. But we’ve not had the consistency, nor have we put all three phases of the game together for an entire game.”
One thing he could say, however, is that the Buffs’ defense continues to be the backbone and strength of the current team.
The Buffs have only had 10 points scored against them, one on a pick-6 interception return by Castle View, Colo., in the second game of the season, and the other just a field goal in the 7-3 win at Hays last week in their WAC opener.
Otherwise, the door has been shut by the Buffs’ defenders.
“What I was most impressed about (vs. Hays)l," Hill said, "was when our offense went 3-and-out, and then we had a poor punt, and gave up a first down and they got into scoring territory, I saw a focus and they (defense) rose to the occasion. Holding them to a field goal saved us as that was the difference in us winning.”
That defense is grudgingly yielding only 73.8 total yards per game. From linemen, to linebackers, to secondary personnel, the Buffs have some of the top statistical leaders in the WAC.
“They’ve just been very solid, very consistent, and are playing very aggressively,” Hill said of his defense.
The Liberal game is the middle of a three-week road trip for the Buffs. After Friday, they will travel to Wichita Northwest on Oct. 6, and then return home for big WAC showdowns with both Dodge City (Oct. 13) and Great Bend (Oct. 20) to end the eight-game regular season.
At the mid-point, Hill likes the fact that the weather has turned cool, the wind has diminished, and there seems to be a rejuvenation of his team’s physical well-being.
“I think there’s just been a refreshing of sorts, both emotional and physical,” Hill said of his team. “You get through the end of each day, and everybody is just feeling a little better now.”
Hill will feel even better if the Buffs head back north late Friday evening with their fifth victory of the season safely tucked away.
Superstitions aside, he’ll take the win any way it arrives.
Contact Brett Marshall at email@example.com