Forget the records. Forget the struggles. On Friday night, Hutchinson and Garden City played in a game each will remember for the rest of the year.
For one side (Garden City), the stinging thoughts of what if will last. For the other (Hutchinson), it was a chance to capture that elusive victory.
As Hutchinson drained out the clock with a couple of meaningless runs at the end of the Salthawks’ 28-24 victory over the visiting Buffaloes, the win (and loss) just carried more weight than which team got to stop being winless.
“No one really cared what our records were, and how they played the week before,” GCHS head coach Brian Hill said. “Both team found themselves in a dog fight … both teams played really hard, and they made enough plays to win.”
It was not the most well-executed game in either program’s history: the Buffs (0-3) had three turnovers and the Salthawks (1-2) two.
And each team made big mistakes right when they least could afford it — the Buffs just one more than Hutch. But each team kept fighting for that first win of the season.
“I was very proud of the way they fought back,” Hill said Friday.
He was particularly proud of the way the Buffs made a play that kept the game close near the end of the third quarter. With the Salthawks marching inside the Buffs’ red zone — already leading 21-12 — the Buffs had to have a stop. And they got it, when Jacob Partin punched the ball out of running back Darian Garrett’s arms and fell on the loose ball at the Buffs’ 5-yard line.
It was then the offense’s turn to make a play, but the Buffs began the drive with a penalty, backing them up to the 3.
The offense did not lose focus, and the Buffs mounted a 10-play, 95-yard drive to cut the deficit to 21-18 and remain in the game.
“That shows a lot about our football team, and shows a lot of growing up,” Hill said. “But we’ve still got some errors that we’ve got to get cleaned up.”
Those errors included allowing a 64-yard touchdown run as an immediate answer for Hutchinson, which went back up 10 (28-18) with 8 minutes to play.
Perhaps the defense was just gassed, considering the Salthawks’ option offense ran 71 plays to the Buffs’ 48.
“It was the cumulative effect,” Hill said.
So even when Reece Morss got the Buffs back within 28-24 with a 13-yard touchdown run with 3:15 to go in the game, the defense did not quite have enough in the gas tank for one more stop.
Hutchinson converted a 4th-and-1 on its next drive, and bled out the clock the rest of the way.
“In the long run, I think this will help us,” Hill said. “They understand we were in a dogfight for four quarters, and now we can go back and dissect the film and point out how critical some of those errors were in a close game.”
And perhaps, moving forward, the Buffs can avoid those same mistakes in potential close games coming up on the schedule.
“We’re still 0-0 going into WAC play,” Hill said, “and we still have a WAC title we’re trying to defend.”
The Buffs host Hays at 7 p.m. Friday.
Contact J. Levi Burnfin at email@example.com.