By BRETT MARSHALL
It might be surprising to think that the outcome of the Garden City-Great Bend football game Friday night at Buffalo Stadium came down to a Hail Mary pass from Greyson Tempel to Caleb Tramp in the deep left corner of the end zone as the clock expired.
But that's exactly what happened, only to have the 6-foot-5 Tramp unable to pull down the desperation throw amongst four white-jersey Panthers that enabled the underdog Panthers to leave town with a dramatic 28-25 victory that was the Western Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
And while the last play of the game was the final decider, this game was decided in many ways in the first quarter and then by time of possession.
For some reason, the Buffs came out flat at the game's outset as the surprising Panthers, who had lost the week before 21-14 to Ulysses at home, scored on three of their first four possessions.
"We had an emotional letdown, and I think that just happens sometimes with teenagers," said a disappointed Buffs' head coach Brian Hill. "We expended a lot of energy last week (35-34 win over Woodward, Okla.), and I just don't think we came out with any emotion. We were just flat, especially in the first quarter."
Not only did Great Bend put the Buffs back on their heels in the first half, they played ball control the entire game, and it kept the football out of the hands of Garden City's explosive senior quarterback Greyson Tempel.
The Panthers had the ball in their hands for 37 minutes, 10 seconds, leaving the Buffs to barely have any time to put points on the board, owning it for just 10 minutes, 50 seconds.
"It was all or nothing for us," Hill said. "That's a rough way when you're going three-and-out, or scoring quick and then the defense has to go right back out there."
It should have been an omen when the Buffs stalled on the Great Bend 6-yard line on their opening drive and on fourth-and-1, Hill elected to kick a field goal and Ismael Hernandez responded with a perfect kick from 23-yards out.
The Panthers scored touchdowns on their next two possessions, getting a 15-yard swing pass from Bryce Beck to Greg Burley for the first score and then a 3-yard TD by workhorse running back Jonathan Allende (38 carries, 90 yards). That left it 14-3 after one quarter.
Garden's defense was unable to stop the Panthers on critical third down plays for much of the night, but it was a second-down, 77-yard touchdown run by Burley that stunned the Garden City bench and home crowd. When Carlos Prado booted the PAT with 8:02 left in the half, it was 21-3 Great Bend.
"We got behind, and we just tried to do our best to keep the clock from being an issue," Hill said.
Greyson Tempel ran roughshod over Great Bend in 2012, when he gained 276 yards on the ground and scored four touchdowns in a 45-28 Buffs' victory.
This time, it was so, so different.
The Buffs QB was held to only 8 yards on 8 carries, and only a 14-yard run in the closing seconds kept him from finishing in the minus column.
"They had the target on him, and they did a great job of it," Hill said of Great Bend's defense, which limited the Buffs to just 46 yards in 15 attempts. "I thought Greyson did a good job with everything they threw at him. We had dropped passes, our defense couldn't get off the field and that's been our Achilles heel all season."
The Buffs rallied with two lightning-quick scores in the second quarter to pull within 21-17 at intermission.
But the Panthers used two long drives in the third quarter, one resulting in a 1-yard sneak by Beck just one play into the fourth period to take a 28-17 lead.
In four plays following the kickoff, the Buffs were in the end zone, getting a 26-yard pass from Tempel to Tramp and then a 2-point pass, also to Tramp, making it 28-25 with 10:56 remaining. But the Buffs only had two more possessions before the final 21 seconds of the game, another 3-and-out and the other snuffed out after five plays.
The Buffs' final hope started on their own 31 and Tempel ran for 14 yards before hitting his twin brother, Dusty, for a 24-yard gain to the Great Bend 31. With just 3.2 seconds remaining, Hill opted for the Hail Mary rather than sending placekicker Ismael Hernandez out to attempt what would have been a 48-yard, game-tying field goal.
"He's got a very good leg, but we just thought it was at the outside of his range," Hill said of his decision to go for the end zone. "We had the right play to the right player, and we just couldn't come down with it."
When the Buffs were down 21-3 in the second quarter, it was Greyson Tempel to Tramp for a 69-yard TD and then Jared Koster scooted from the 6-yard line with 3:38 to go before the break.
The maligned Buffs' defense did a better job in the second half, but Great Bend converted three fourth-and-short plays to keep drives alive. Then, it became all about the clock. And the Panthers played field position the rest of the way, happy to run time off and then punt and force the Buffs into a hurry-up offense that never quite clicked.
"We didn't come out like we needed to, and the first quarter is really where the game was decided," Hill said. "I'm disappointed, the kids are disappointed. We've been here before, and we'll come back and go to work and get ready for Hays."
Now 1-2 and 0-1 in the WAC, the Buffs will hit the road on Friday at Hays.
Great Bend 14 7 0 7 -- 28
Garden City 3 14 0 8 -- 25
GC--Ismael Hernandez 23 field goal, 10:41.
GB--Greg Burley 15 pass from Bryce Beck (Carlos Prado kick), 5:47.
GB--Jonathan Allende 3 run (Prado kick), :46.4.
GB--Burley 77 run (Prado kick), 8:02.
GC--Caleb Tramp 69 pass from Greyson Tempel (Ismael Hernandez kick), 7:16.
GC--Jared Koster 6 run (I. Hernandez kick), 3:38.
GB--Beck 1 run (Prado kick), 11:56.
GC--Tramp 26 pass from G. Tempel (Tramp pass from G. Tempel), 10:56.
Team Statistics GB GC
First downs 15 9
Rushes-yards 56-256 15-46
Passing yards 50 242
Passes 6-8-0 13-23-0
Penalties-yads 4-20 5-39
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Punts-avg. 3-29.3 4-36.3
Possession Time 37:10 10:50
RUSHING--Great Bend: Beck 13-64, Allende 38-90, Burley 3-89, McGinnes 1-13, Ibarra 1-0; Garden City: G. Tempel 8-8, Koster 7-38.
PASSING--Great Bend: Beck 6-8-0--50; Garden City: G. Tempel 13-23-0--242.
RECEIVING--Great Bend: Allende 2-7, Reynolds 1-14, Burley 3-29; Garden City: D. Tempel 6-135, M. Hernandez 1-(-6), Tramp 6-113.