If ever there might have been an understatement prior to a football game, it might have been the one that said Garden City’s Buffaloes football team had a big, big challenge in its season opening game.
Not only were the Buffs taking on powerhouse Derby, preseason ranked No. 1 by Kpreps.com and No. 3 by Catch it Kansas, but they were traveling to central Kansas to face the daunting task at Panther Stadium.
And just what most people expected out of this game is exactly what transpired as the host Panthers, with six returning starters and a bevy of upperclassmen, swarmed the Buffaloes’ nearly-new offense to produce a 49-6 victory in the opening game of the 2018 campaign.
“That’s what happens when you’ve got young kids lining up on both sides of the ball,” head coach Brian Hill said afterward in a telephone interview. “I thought the experience that they will gain from playing the No. 1 team in Kansas will be invaluable down the road.”
Before the fans could settle themselves into their seats, Derby had already struck, with Hunter Igo taking the opening kickoff, breaking to the outside and racing 82 yards just 13 seconds into the game.
That was just the beginning of what became an avalanche.
When Derby forced a quick 3-and-out, the Panthers marched to the end zone on their first true drive, with Grant Adler hooking up with Davin Simms on a 22-yard catch and run TD, making it 14-0, with 7:45 remaining in the first.
That’s how the quarter ended, and it might have been worse had Reece Morss, playing in his first game as a Buffalo, not intercepted Adler deep in their own territory.
The second quarter, though, went downhill for the Buffs.
Four scores by the Panthers turned the game into a true romp.
Derby’s high-powered offense, which seemingly hasn’t lost much despite returning only a couple of starters, struck quick and often.
Tre Washington scored on a 15-yard run at the 11:23 mark. Aaron Larson grabbed a 15-yard pass from Adler at 7:54. Adler took off on a 66-yard run with 4:32 remaining before Washington finished off the 12 minutes with an 8-yard run with 3:28 on the clock.
The Buffs, who had three turnovers in the first half, managed just 57 total yards in the opening half while Derby had 213 by intermission. Several times, the Buffs hurt themselves with penalties, suffering 37 yards on seven flags.
The start of the third quarter was more of the same, with Tre Washington walking his way in from 3 yards out at the 9:30 mark, and Jackson Syring’s seventh perfect PAT made it 49-0, and that kicked in the running clock for the remainder of the game.
Playing against the Derby backups, the Buffs finally got on the scoreboard with 7:38 remaining in the game when Carlos Acosta found Tye Davis in the back side of the end zone from 5 yards out, making it 49-6. The lone scoring drive covered 46 yards in 8 plays.
The win for Derby marked the 21st straight home triumph and Panther head coach Brandon Clark is now 105-36. The 43-point margin was tied for the second-worst loss in Hill’s now 9th season.
The Buffs young and inexperienced offense could muster only 37 rushing yards and 58 through the air. They were guilty of three turnovers, all interceptions of Acosta, making his first ever varsity start.
For Hill, it will be back to the drawing board to utilize the six days between games to prepare for their next game.
“This will give us a chance to do a lot of processing of the speed, the preparation and strength of teams we face,” Hill said. “A lot of what happened tonight was just the strength of their 17-18 year olds against our 15-16 year olds. We were in position, but they just overpowered us.”
It was the first meeting between the 6A programs, the last coming in the state semifinals in 2013 when the Panthers easily won that one, too, 55-17. Overall, however, the Buffs still own an 11-4 advantage in the series.
If there was any disappointment in Hill, he said it was how some of his upperclassmen handled the game itself.
“We had some kids where the expectations we had of them, they just didn’t handle it well,” Hill said. “Some were asking out, and we made mental mistakes and some of that was because of being tired and the fatigue factor.”
The Buffs will regroup now and prepare for their home opener next Friday when they host Valley Center at 7 p.m. at Buffalo Stadium. It will be Military Appreciation Night.