By BRETT MARSHALL
Neither head coach was able or willing to predict exactly what might transpire in Friday night's Western Athletic Conference football opener between the Garden City Buffaloes and the Great Bend Panthers.
The two WAC rivals will kick off their league schedule at 7 p.m. at Buffalo Stadium, with the Panthers trying to rebound from a 21-14 home loss to Class 4A Ulysses while the Buffs are seeking to maintain momentum coming off a wild-and-crazy 35-34 victory over Woodward, Okla. In the opening week, Great Bend trounced Class 3A Hoisington, 35-7, while Garden City fell to Bixby, Okla., 32-27, on the road.
"It's always a big game, and is usually a good game, especially when it's the league opener," Black said during a Tuesday telephone interview. "I think this year, perhaps more than any year I can remember, every team is really, really good. At the moment, I feel like we're on the outskirts looking in on that group. It's about the best I've seen it."
Black said there was an abundance of talented quarterbacks in the WAC this year — Britton Abbott of Liberal (783 passing yards in two wins), Dodge City's Kelan Newton, Hays High's talented junior Alex Delton (199 yards passing, 130 yards rushing) and his own Bryce Beck.
But he saved the most praise for Garden City's senior signal caller, Greyson Tempel, who has set school individual total offense records in each of the first two weeks of the season, first getting 395 at Bixby, (212 rushing, 183 passing) and then topping that in the Woodward win with 438 yards (303 passing, 135 rushing).
"He's the Johnny (Football) Manziel, of high school football," Black said of Tempel, drawing comparisons to the Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner of 2012. "He's capable of beating you in so many ways."
Black should know. Whether it's a nightmare he'd rather forget is another story.
It was a year ago that Tempel had his breakout game against the Panthers, rushing for 276 yards and scoring four touchdowns to pace the Buffs to a 45-28 triumph over a stunned Great Bend crowd.
"Their overall team speed is what jumps out at you," Black said of the Buffs. "It's all over — offense, defense, special teams. The speed scares you, and we'll just try to devise a way to contain that speed. That's at the top of our game plan. By far, Garden City is the fastest team we've seen. You feel a little like going into a shootout with a BB-gun. He (Tempel) is a special player — he can drop back and fling it 50 yards, scramble around and beat you with his running. Their offense is doing a good job of using their quarterback."
For Hill, some of the big objectives within the ultimate goal of winning is to improve on the defensive side of the ball.
"We made some progress from the first to second game in understanding schemes on both sides of the ball," Hill said following the team's heartstopping win over Woodward. "We had our share of mistakes, but we managed to overcome them. I saw a lot of good things."
The Buffs, despite scoring 62 points in the two games and putting up heady offensive numbers (243 passing, 231.5 rushing), it will be the defense that will need to improve against the Panthers.
They've played two teams which have operated on a high-octane, wide-open spread offense, and have given up 66 points and are yielding 465.5 yards per game (244 passing, 221.5 rushing). The defense, has however, forced five turnovers in the two games.
"It's the same Great Bend — they're well-coached, physical and they'll always come up with some surprises for you," Hill said. "They've got those good backs (Johnny Allende, 299 yards) and Beck (117 yards) and I expect them to do the things that we've had trouble with defending."
Black said he is most concerned about his own team's health, having lost four starters to injuries, two for the season and the other two cornerbacks anywhere from two to six weeks.
"We're circling the wagons and for us to be successful, we'll have to play physical up front," Black said. "We haven't thrown the ball with any success yet (89 yards in two games) so that's not in our arsenal. We'll have to grind some yards out and try to keep the ball out of their hands."
Black's senior quarterback, Bryce Beck, has rushed for 117 yards and thrown for 81 in the two Panther games.
"We need to find the ways to get him out to the perimeter and we'll move forward the best we can," Black said. "Our goal is to find some confidence. Our kids will play hard, that I know."
Hill said he expects the Panthers to try and neutralize Tempel as much as possible, something that didn't occur in the 2002 explosion.
"They'll try and make him hand the ball off to somebody else, try to corral him in the backfield and not make the big plays," Hill said. "Greyson's made great strides each and every week in figuring out what the other defenses allow."
Hill likes the fact that Tempel is utilizing his other offensive weapons — 6-5 wide receiver Caleb Tramp (10 catches, 200 yards), Mitchell Hernandez (10 catches, 227 yards) while Dusty Tempel (Greyson's twin) has 7 catches for just 59 yards. Sophomore running back Jared Koster had his best outing against the Boomers, rushing for 72 yards on 10 carries and scoring on a nifty 11-yard double-cutback run.
"Our guys are learning more and more how to take advantage of what this offense can do," Hill said of his up-tempo attack. "It puts pressure on the defense and then you can do what the defense allows you to do."
Following Friday's WAC opener, the Buffs will hit the road for trips to Hays and Liberal before returning home on Oct. 11 against Wichita East.