Before Friday's inter-league game against Valley Center, Brian Hill said he knew his youthful squad would need to get off to a good start to gain some much-needed confidence after the Buffs had suffered a 49-6 season-opening loss the week before at Derby.
So when the Buffs fumbled the opening kickoff with the Hornets recovering, things didn't bode well. After a defensive stop, the Buffs got the ball back and then it was Lane Durst, wide open by 25 yards, dropping a potential touchdown pass off a trick play lateral and wide receiver pass from Tye Davis.
"From that point forward, it just felt like things were going uphill," Hill said after watching his Buffs absorb a 41-20 loss at Buffalo Stadium in a game that ended with a light mist.
It might well have been a downpour. That's how it felt most of the night.
The end result left the Buffs 0-2 to begin the season while the Hornets improved to 1-1. The Buffs will take on a winless Hutchinson team in Week 3 at Hutch.
Hill seemed to know all the reasons why his team was unable to perform up to what has been the usual standard during his nine-years as head coach of the Buffs.
"We've practiced things over and over, and when we get to a game we're not transitioning that into the game," Hill said. "It's not a lack of effort, but we're just not very good at it right now. We're at a point where experience matters and we don't have much of that."
Big plays were the big downfall for the Buffs on a night where Reece Morss, the Holcomb transfer, was one of the few bright spots.
Morss scored all three touchdowns for the Buffs, rumbling in from 19 and 20 yards on nifty runs, then in the second half blocking a quick-kick punt by the Hornets, and picking it up and taking it into the end zone for the Buffs' final score. He finished with just more than 100 yards rushing and made big play after big play from his linebacker position on defense.
"He's every bit the big-time player as advertised," HIll said of the 6-2, 225-pound senior. "He's a leader and he's a pleasure to coach."
But Hill hasn't thrown in the towel — it's not really in his makeup — and the Buffs will regroup again on Monday and prepare for the road trip to take on the Salthawks.
"This is a long process with such a young group," Hill said of his kiddie corps. "There's wide emotions with this group, and we've got to find the positives to emphasize."
The first half deficit for the Buffs boiled down to allowing the big play.
The first that put the Buffs behind came on an 89-yard go route from Parker Schrater to Zach Williams at the 5:53 mark of the first.
That was followed two minutes later after a stalled Garden drive when Reece Morss boomed a 64-yard punt all the way to the Hornet 1-yard line, where Larry Wilson picked the ball up just a foot from the goal line (which would have been a touchback).
Instead, Wilson took it and raced down the far sideline, getting a wall of blockers in front and outran the Buffs’ special teams for a 99-yard TD scamper. A missed PAT made it 13-0 Valley Center with 3:36 left in the first.
The Buffs answered with their best drive of the half, moving 61 yards in nine plays with Morss rumbling 19 yards when he took the handoff from Carlos Acosta, zipped to the outside and then cut back into the center and went in unscathed for the score. The PAT was a two-pointer that almost came unglued, only to have Carlos Acosta find Davis on the edge of the sideline for a diving catch as he kept his feet inbounds for the 2-pointer, making it 13-8 at the 1:00 mark of the first.
The second quarter saw the Hornets extend their lead once again on an 18-yard run by Wilson, which was then countered by Morss’ second TD run, this one another 20-yarder in which he skipped to the outside, then cut back just inside the pylon. The Buffs bobbled the PAT snap and Acosta was tackled, making it 20-14 with 3:39 left before intermission.
Then lightning struck for the Hornets again, when Schrater zipped a pass over the middle to Amado Carillo, who had it on his left fingers, pulled it in and raced into the end zone from 27 yards out with only 25 seconds showing before the half. That put the Buffs in a 27-14 hole.
The lead grew to 34-14 before Morss' blocked punt cut the deficit to 34-20, only to have the Hornets respond with another big pass play from Schrater to Blayne Hightower, who plucked the pass out of the air with his fingertips and pulled it down and danced into the end zone.
The fourth quarter was mostly an exchange of possessions with neither team threatening in the final 12 minutes.