No one could have predicted it would come to one last play, not after the Garden City Buffs roared out to a 28-0 lead at the half.
But there it was, a lofted Hail Mary from visiting Hays seemingly suspended in the air for what must have felt like an eternity to every Garden City player, coach and fan. But Palmer Hutchison’s last gasp heave as the clock expired was knocked out of bounds, and the Buffs held on for the 35-28 win over the Indians.
Hays (1-3) had nearly rallied from the 28-point deficit with three third-quarter touchdowns, and another in the final period, but fell just short of spoiling the Buffs’ first win of the season, as they improve to 1-3.
Though the win didn’t start — nor end — without some hiccups, such as committing a penalty when Hays’ offense faced a third-and-long, and then allowing a fake punt to gain a first down for the Indians.
But an interception by Ryan Jarmer ended that possession for Hays, and got the Buffs’ offense on the field. After a bit of stalling — including two penalties on the opening drive — the Buffs’ running game got going, with Reece Morss breaking off a 14-yard-run, and then 16-yard run on 2nd-and-17 later in the drive.
But it was designed quarterback run for Acosta, on 4th-and-2 from the Hays 11, that opened scoring, with Acosta following the punishing Morss through the hole for the 11-yard touchdown.
Earlier this week, GCHS coach Brian Hill stressed how important it was that Acosta found some success running the football for the Buffs.
“If we can get that production from our quarterback position, it will open things up and give more opportunities to guys like Tye Davis,” Hill said.
After a three-and-out for Hays, it took the Buffs just three plays to score again, with Acosta staying in the pocket and receiving a big hit, but not before he delivered a perfect strike — 30 yards downfield — to Davis streaking wide open down the field. Davis held onto the ball with his fingertips and raced into the end zone for the 48-yard touchdown.
Then, after weeks of special teams snafus, the Buffs created a break of their own, when they squibbed the ensuing kickoff and then forced a fumble, which Kaleb LaPointe recovered at the Hays 28.
Five plays later, Acosta snuck one into the end zone from 1 yard out early in the second quarter. The drive was kept alive when LaPointe recovered a Morss fumble inside of the 5.
The two teams exchanged scoreless possessions, including a blocked punt and missed field goal by Hays, before the Buffs got the ball back with a little more than 2 minutes to play.
Seemingly content with the lead, the Buffs just ran the ball — but Morss was having none of that, turning into a bowling ball and rumbling through multiple Hays missed tackles for 58 yards, getting down to the Hays’ 4.
The Buffs’ sideline exploded for their senior do-it-all running back, and Acosta again capped the drive with another 1-yard sneak. At the break, Garden City led 28-0.
But it was all Hays in the third quarter, as the Indians scored on all three of their drives in the period, and their first in the fourth quarter, while the Buffs managed just one touchdown and fumbled on the other two.
Still, the Buffs did just enough on defense, forcing a pair of punts and denying the Hail Mary, to seal the much-needed victory.