On Oct. 7, 2016, the Wichita Northwest Grizzly football team owned a 27-0 lead over the Garden City Buffaloes midway through the second quarter.
Playing at home, and making a rally for the ages, the Buffs came from behind to defeat the Grizzlies 46-34 at Buffalo Stadium.
Nearly a year to the day later, Oct. 6, 2017, Garden City’s Buffalo football team owned a 23-6 halftime advantage over the Grizzlies in a game played at Wichita Northwest Stadium.
And in a near reverse, the Grizzlies scored 30 unanswered points (23 in the fourth quarter) en route to a 36-23 triumph over the Buffaloes.
One good turnaround deserves another good turnaround.
Two rounds — Garden City 1, Wichita Northwest 1.
Both of those games, though, came in the regular season, and while important, do not have the same ramifications that Friday’s 7 p.m. Class 6A sectional playoff will have.
The two teams reached this quarterfinal round in distinctly different fashion.
The Buffs, 8-2, are coming off a dramatic 24-21 road victory last Friday over Topeka High. In that game against the heavily-favored Trojans, the Buffs led 16-7 at halftime, and then trailed 21-16 heading into the fourth quarter, before scoring and then coming up with big defensive stops late to win.
Northwest, meanwhile, is 9-1 and have won its last nine games after a season-opening loss (40-35) to Class 5A powerhouse Bishop Carroll. The Grizzlies reached this stage with a 57-24 romp over Haysville-Campus.
Both coaches — Northwest’s Steve Martin and Garden City’s Brian Hill — agree that facing a repeat foe has its own set of distinct challenges, and opportunities.
And that means that the Buffs will be doing their level best to prepare a way to slow down the high-powered Northwest offense, which operates at warp speed and averages 51.1 points and 426.3 yards per game.
“That’s just what we do,” said Martin, now finishing his sixth season while leading the program to a lofty 46-15 won-loss record (.754). “It’s our equalizer. Depending on our personnel, it allows us to go from average to good, or from good to great. We like to operate at a high level — and fast."
Garden’s defense did manage to put the brakes on the Grizzlies’ offense to some extent in that Oct. 6 roller-coaster loss. They managed 316 total yards, but the flip side of that was Garden’s inability to establish a running game (48 yards on 27 carries).
“We both had people missing the game, and so I think there will be some dynamics that will be different this time,” Hill said. “Both our lines will be better.”
Martin and Hill, who is 53-26 closing in on the end of his eighth season (.671), are good friends and no strangers to the styles that each team plays.
“I’m sure coach Hill feels like he didn’t slam the door on us just like we didn’t slam the door in 2016,” Martin said of the previous two wild and woolly battles. “At this stage, it doesn’t matter whether you win by one or two, whatever, you just want to get a win and move on.”
Northwest’s offensive gauntlet begins with quarterback Austin Anderson, who has efficiently thrown for 1,656 yards (92-of-158), with 21 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. When it’s time to turn to the ground game, Anderson hands off to a pair of juniors — bruising Breece Hall who has 1,685 yards on just 157 carries (10.7 avg.) and has scored 26 touchdowns, just three fewer than the entire Garden City offense. Scatback Roy Johnson (155 lbs) provides the outside threat for the Grizzlies, rushing for 779 yards (9.7 avg.) and has eight TDs. Both went over the 100-yard plateau in the Oct. 6 win.
“We’ve gotta do a better job of tackling, that’s for sure,” Hill said of his defense. “We both know each other very well, so it comes down to execution and mistakes. We’re not gonna win if we tackle the way we did a month ago.”
Martin, too, agrees that not much that happened five weeks ago will impact this latest edition of what has become one of the western half of Kansas’ 6A battles for power.
“You may see a completely different game plan, because what worked in that game, may not work now,” Martin said. “We’ve had good competitive games, and I think that’s what you enjoy. When you’re both 6A contenders, neither wants to lose that last game.”
And in that short period of time on the calendar, Martin said he sees a little different Garden City team than the one they saw in early October.
“They’ve changed their personality since we played them,” Martin said. “They’re running the ball more, and running it effectively. They’re playing more of a power game and that changes the way you defend.”
While the loss at Northwest stopped the early-season five-game winning streak of the Buffs, it was a later 20-7 home loss to Great Bend that most disturbed Hill.
Since that Oct. 20 shocker, the Buffs have beaten Topeka-Washburn Rural (7-0) and Topeka High to reach this stage for the first time since 2013 when they reached the semifinals.