An unbeaten 2016 football season ended prematurely for the Garden City Buffaloes in a second-round home loss to Lawrence-Free State.
A year later, on the same Buffalo Stadium turf, the Garden City High School football team’s postseason playoff plans were not derailed by Topeka-Washburn Rural Friday night.
Thanks goes to senior David Arteaga, who got just enough blocking from his massive front wall, and a defense that awakened after being maligned in a 20-7 loss a week ago to Great Bend.
The result wasn’t necessarily a work of art, nor will it go down as the most memorable win for coach Brian Hill, but the 7-0 victory over the Junior Blues on a bone-chilling, breezy late October night was all that was needed.
Now, the Buffs, who improved to 7-2, will have a week to regroup, and get ready for a trip to Topeka, where they will face the Topeka High Trojans, victors in a 61-6 rout of Wichita South, also on Friday night. The Junior Blues, who reached the third round a year ago, ended their season at 4-5.
But for the moment, even a bit shivering in the aftermath of a hard-fought, defensive battle where first downs were at a premium, Hill was happy as, well, a Buffalo.
“Put any adjective you want in front of a W, and I’ll be okay with it,” Hill said afterward. “Our performance from last week showed a lot of character, and I just can’t say enough about the way the kids responded.”
Ultimately, the game came down to a few plays, although the tug-of-war between the two defenses against offenses that sputtered most of the night dominated.
On a 4th-and-7 from the Junior Blues’ 29 midway through the second quarter, quarterback Garret Doll lofted a high pass on a post pattern for Tye Davis, and the 6-4 junior wideout stretched his body out flat, hauled the ball in and tucked it away while falling into the end zone.
Anthony Flores’ PAT boot at the 8:30 mark of the period was the first, and only, score of the battle.
“We had a good call, a pattern that has worked well with them, and we got the perfect execution on the play,” Hill said.
Early on, the Junior Blues appeared to have the momentum despite the five-hour bus ride across the state.
An 11-play, 41-yard drive that looked promising ended with a 33-yard missed field goal by Grant Kayser. It proved to be a portend of happenings as the game wore on.
At the intermission, the teams had combined for 24 rushing yards. There weren’t many more in the second half, either, although Arteaga came to the rescue for the Buffs in the critical fourth quarter.
With the running game hobbled by the absence of the injured Quenton LaPointe, and the Buffs not able to move the ball, Hill inserted Arteaga, who already was playing both ways at free safety and wide receiver, at the quarterback spot.
He had run three inconsequential plays in the first half on sweeps from his slot position, but as the QB in the Wildcat formation, he became the best offense the Buffs had all night.
They clipped six minutes off the clock in the fourth, but couldn’t score when Arteaga missed on a jump pass to the eligible offensive tackle DeMarcus Elliott.
But the Junior Blues were backed up against their own goal line, and from the south shadow couldn’t move again.
The Buffs reclaimed the ball at their own 38, but two 15-yard penalties on Rural, one a personal foul and the other an unsportsmanlike conduct, moved the ball all the way to the Rural 28.
From there, the Buffs simply ran Arteaga, play after play.
“It was just me being able to get some yards because my teammates up front were doing a great job of creating some room,” Arteaga said. “I’ll do anything to help the team, and I know coach (Hill) has my back and I’m gonna have his back.”
All that mattered to the 5-8, 165-pounder, who plays much bigger than his size, was getting a win and advancing to the second round.
“I don’t care about yards, it was a perfect night,” Arteaga said. “I expected the win.”
The only other time in recent memory where he was playing QB was with his Madden video game and of course, he was in the Wildcat position.
“Yep. Just a video game. That’s the only other place I’ve played quarterback,” Arteaga said with a smile. “This feels great. I love my team.”
Arteaga did finish as the game’s top rusher, carrying the ball 20 times for 72 yards, while the rest of the team combined had minus-1 yard.
But the defense held the Blues in check, limiting them to only 18 yards on 19 rushing attempts and 111 total yards. Doll hit 10-of-15 passes with one pick and the one TD for 138 yards.
Note: It was the first postseason shutout since the 1991 team accomplished the feat en route to playing for a state championship.