Buffalo offense struggles in opening loss

GCHS Athletics
Garden City High School's Jerry Arteaga breaks up the sideline past Manhattan's EJ Whitfield, right, for a gain Friday at Buffalo Stadium.

Perhaps it was an omen to come.

When Garden City High School administration officials placed the 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday at Buffalo Stadium on hold due to lightning in the area, the Buffs and head coach Brian Hill had to wait to begin their 2021 season against the Manhattan Indians.

The opponent was a familiar one, one that they had met twice in the 2020 season and came up short each time, 21-7, in the ’20 opening game and then 21-20 in the Week 9 Play-In game of the KSHSAA Playoffs.

And with 17 returning starters, there was reason for optimism on the side of the Buffs.

But not much went the way for the home team once the game started with an approximate 8:35 kickoff after the storm, which brought nearly an inch of rain and wind gusts of more than 60mph, got under way.

The Buffs’ revamped offense, predicated on running the ball and controlling the clock, couldn’t get untracked against the Indians. The Buffs’ defense, though, which had 9 returners from a year ago, was solid for much of the game only to yield three big plays that changed the potential outcome in favor of the Buffs.

While the Buffs recovered one fumble and had one interception on defense, they gave up a 56-yard run to Manhattan quarterback Keenan Schartz in the first quarter. That led to a short remaining drive of less than 10 yards, capped off by a 1-yard plunge by Schartz at the 3:39 mark of the first quarter. A Grant Snowden successful PAT kick made it 7-0, Indians.

Garden City High School's Joel Bellows and Micah Perez (15) combine to drop Manhattan running back Vinny Smith for a loss Friday at Buffalo Stadium.

The score would remain there for the entirety of the second period, and despite the offensive struggles, the Buffs were still in the game. At the outset of the third period, the Buffs took the kickoff and promptly turned the ball over on a lost fumble.

But the Buffs’ defense stiffened and held, forcing Snowden into a 31-yard field goal attempt which wide right. The Buffs, though, once again had their offense stall and were forced to punt. Manhattan returner Colby Klieman took the Ryan Heiman punt and darted to the near sideline for a return of 32 yards, setting the Indians up near the Buffs’ 30 yard line.

Three first downs put the ball inside the Buffs’ 5-yard line and running back Vinny Smith capped the drive off with a 4-yard burst up the middle. Snowden’s PAT kick put the Indians on top 14-0 with 3:27 to play in the quarter.

Unable to sustain any offensive drives, the Buffs had somehow pinned Manhattan back on its own 8-yard line early in the fourth quarter. A turnover could turn the tide toward the Buffs. But on third and seven, it was Manhattan’s Schartz who dashed up the middle, cut once and was off to the north endzone for a 92-yard touchdown scamper. A successful Snowden PAT kick increased the Indians’ lead to 21-0 with 10:56 remaining.

After trading punts, the Buffs got the ball near midfield and made their lone sustained drive of the game, and eventually got on the scoreboard with 0:32 seconds remaining when Caleb Wiese found a wide open Caleb Metzen for a 17-yard TD pass. The PAT kick attempt never materialized as the center snap was muffed. That left the final score of 21-6.

In comments made over the weekend following the Friday game, Coach Hill said it was just a matter of players with experience doing things that they had not seen in practice scrimmages nor the 36-play offensive schemes run in the Jamboree at Wichita Heights the Friday before.

“We had uncharacteristic mistakes from kids who have played varsity,” Hill said. “It was something we had not seen in our camp. I wish I knew what was going on with them, and until we can sit down and talk to the kids on Monday, I won’t really know.”

Hill said it was not just one or two players unable to perform their assignments, it was a majority of the players on offense.

“Some kids with 18 to 21 starters, were making the kinds of mistakes that new starters usually make,” said Hill. “It was just jaw dropping in some way. There were very few times in the game where we had all 11 offensive players doing the right thing.”

Hill described the offensive effort as taking one step forward and then two steps back.

“Manhattan’s defense gave us the same look that we expected, and we still made the same mistakes when the adjustments were pointed out,” Hill said. “I am at a loss. I know this group of seniors hasn’t won a lot of games, so it seems when we get down early, their heads go down, too. We’ve got to find a way out of that mindset. We’ve got to get over the hump.”

Defensively, Hill said, the team also struggled at times by missing individual assignments.

“They were doing things so out of character,” Hill said. “There were many times we had opportunities to get losses against Manhattan and we didn’t have the right player in the right place.”

The Buffs will begin practices this week for Game 2 which will be Friday, Sept. 10, at Hutchinson where they will face the Salthawks, who opened with a 34-6 victory over Valley Center. Kickoff at Hutch’s Gowans Stadium will be 7 p.m.

WAC roundup: Other Western Athletic Conference teams in action saw preseason favorite and defending champion Hays defeat Wichita East, 35-6; Dodge City dropped Wichita West, 28-6; Liberal rolled over Guymon, Okla., 56-16; and Great Bend was blanked by Maize South, 32-0.

This week’s games will see WAC action begin with Liberal traveling to Dodge City and Hays High hosting Great Bend.

Game Statistics:

1st Quarter

MHS—Keenan Schartz 1 run (Grant Snowden PAT kick), 3:39, 0-7.

3rd Quarter

MHS—Vinny Smith, 4 run (Grant Snowden PAT kick), 3:27, 0-14.

4th Quarter

MHS—Keenan Schartz, 92 run (Grant Snowden PAT kick), 10:56, 0-21.

GC—Caleb Metzen 17 pass from Caleb Wiese (PAT failed), 0:32, 6-21.

MANHATTAN  7; 0; 7; 7;  - 21

GARDEN CITY  0; 0; 0; 6;  - 6