Garden City High School opened its football season with what the Buffaloes knew was a huge challenge in Derby, now the Class 6A no. 1-ranked Derby Panthers.
That resulted in a blowout loss.
But the young Buffs (2-3), now winners of two in a row with Friday’s 32-6 blowout of Liberal, have steadily improved since then.
Now, the Buffs face another big task in front of them, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 5A, Wichita Northwest, which comes to Buffalo Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
“With a really good opponent, you’d like to measure yourself in what you’ve been able to accomplish, and what you’ve learned and see how far we have come,” GCHS head coach Brian Hill said of the Grizzlies, who are 5-0 and have scored 56, 56, 56 and 55 points in each of the previous four weeks.
Their closest contest came in Week 1, when Northwest edged Bishop Carroll, 23-22. Otherwise, 2018 has been a march through the schedule for a team dead set on atoning for a 53-41 loss in the state semifinal to Derby in 2017.
“When we lost to Derby, our kids didn’t waste a lot of time getting back to work, getting back in the weight room,” Northwest head coach Steve Martin said this week.
And that’s been proven so far in 2018.
“They’ve got speed everywhere,” Hill said of Northwest. “They obviously are really, really dynamite at tailback.”
The Grizzlies are rushing for 321.4 yards per game, led by senior Breece Hall — a three-star prospect committed to play at Iowa State, according to 247sports.com — who is rushing for 8.4 yards per carry himself and 149.8 yards per game. He’s scored 10 touchdowns.
The No. 2 back is Roy Johnson, who sees nearly as much action as Hall in the backfield in Northwest’s two-back sets, and he’s rushing for 81.2 yards per game and has scored four touchdowns.
“He’s a great change-of-pace guy,” Hill said. “Any time you can hand it to two guys like that, it’s dangerous.”
In addition to Hall on offense, Northwest boasts Marcus Hicks on defense, one of two four-star rated prospects in the state, according to 247sports.com. Hicks is a 6-5, 241-pound defensive end who is committed to sign to Oklahoma in February.
Northwest and Garden City are not unfamiliar foes, with the two teams meeting twice in 2017, first in the regular season (36-23 Northwest win) and then in the 2017 state quarterfinals (a 49-6 Northwest rout). They’ve also met every season since 2012.
“As a program, they’re well-coached,” Martin said of the Buffs. “Coach Hill has done a remarkable job of installing his core beliefs. You can always tell they’ve been in the weight room, and they’re always physical at the point of attack.”
And after Carlos Acosta threw three touchdowns in the first quarter vs. Liberal, Martin is wary of the Buffs’ receivers, particularly Tye Davis.
“The Davis kid is a very good weapon, and you’ve got to know where he is at at all times, just because of how big he is,” Martin said.
But like many for the Buffs, Davis has to play on both offense and defense. Northwest, though a Class 5A school this season, does not. And with an offense that tries to go as fast as it can on offense, that could tire out Buffs’ players quickly.
“They’re an awful, awful good football team,” Hill said, “and we’ve got a big challenge in front of us.”