Buffaloes use stingy defense, run game in OT win
Most coaches and football gurus will argue that the biggest improvement for teams is usually from Game 1 to Week 2.
Make no mistake about that tried and true observation, the Garden City Buffaloes football team is a testament to that.
On Friday night (Sept. 10), the Buffs hit the road to play powerhouse Hutchinson at Gowans Stadium and used a reliably strong running attack and a hard-hitting defense to claim a dramatic 13-7 overtime victory over the Salthawks.
While GCHS head coach Brian Hill didn’t want to overstate the importance of the victory, or to understate it either, one needs to put this triumph in historical perspective.
For the past two decades Hutchinson has been one of the state’s powerhouse Class 5-6A programs, having won seven state championships and contended in numerous other years. Not since the 1999 regular season finale at Hutch’s Gowans Stadium had a Buffalo team left town with a victory.
Seven previous visits had all come up empty, some of them the most embarrassing losses in the rivalry’s history. So, all of that history was not lost on Hill in the aftermath.
Junior running back Kleysteuber, who was the workhouse for the Buffs’ methodical ground game, got the game winner on third down of overtime from 1-yard out to close out the 10-yard drive. The Buffs defense had held Hutchinson’s overtime possession on downs.
Kleysteuber, a 5-10, 170-pounder, finished the game with 26 carries for 114 yards and two TDs, the first one coming on a 3-yard burst in the first quarter with 4:23 remaining. That capped off a crunching 13-play, 71-yard drive that consumed 7 minutes, 37 seconds off the clock.
That score held up the remainder of the first half as the Buffs took that 7-0 advantage into the locker room at intermission.
In the third quarter, Hutchinson got its lone score of the game, when quarterback Noah Khokhar connected with Malaki Miller for a 51-yard touchdown strike. Both teams successfully kicked the extra points to make it 7-7 heading to the final 12 minutes.
Neither team could get the ball into the end zone in the final quarter, thus sending the game into overtime. Each team is granted a possession, starting at the 10-yard line and has four plays to score either a TD or kick a field goal.
The Buffs won the coin toss for overtime and elected to play defense. On the first play for Hutch, the Buffs’ swarming defense threw a Salthawk runner Daekwon Armstrong for an 11-yard loss to the 21-yard line. That was followed by two incomplete passes and then Hutch placekicker Taysen Runyan was wide left on a 38-yard field goal attempt.
That put the ball in the hands of the Garden City offense, and as they had done for much of the night, went to Kleysteuber and the sophomore running back gained seven yards to the 3-yard line. Another gain of just more than two yards placed the ball inside the 1, and on third down, Kleysteuber with an assist from teammates, drove into the end zone, making it by inches to deliver the game-winner.
"It was a big win," Kleysteuber said. "We had our first loss (against) Manhattan. That was pretty tough. We had the early touchdown at the beginning and just went dry... Our defense pretty much won the game for us, and we just finished off in overtime."
Hill said that he was especially pleased for the seniors, who have struggled to find ways to win games during their four-year career.
“The celebration got all the way to the end zone from the bench,” Hill said. “The guys were together, celebrating. It was pretty fun and exciting.”
And on this Friday night, they did find a way to win a game that was held in the balance all night.
“Learning how to compete and then how to win is never easy,” Hill said. “I told the young men to enjoy it for the weekend, and then get ready to come back and work just as hard to prepare for Wichita West. They need to understand why they won the game, because it was for all the preparation and hard work they put in during practice last week.”
Hill’s strategy was quite simple from the game’s outset, handing the ball to Kleysteuber 26 times during the game, including 11 times of the 13-play, 71-yard scoring drive on their first possession. That drive consumed just less than eight minutes of the clock.
“I felt like we were bigger than they were up front,” Hill said. “They (Hutch) made adjustments and we still struggled at times on first downs. When you’re a running team, it’s typical to make those yards up but for the most part we did that compared to last week. We were light years ahead of where we were (21-6 loss to Manhattan). We knew Hutch was good at the linebacker and safety positions and felt it would be difficult getting to the sidelines, so we just ran right at them most of the night and tried to wear them down.”
After that opening scoring drive, the offense stalled, just as it did for Hutch, which struggled to get any semblance of a running game going. The Buffs’ defense held strong throughout the first half, allowing them to take that 7-0 lead into the locker room at intermission.
Hutch’s lone scoring drive came in the latter stages of the third period when they got the ball at their own 38-yard line, earning a first down just short of midfield. That’s when QB Noah Khokhar found receiver Malaki Miller on a 51-yard bomb for a TD. Runyan’s PAT kick was good and with 1:53 left in the third, the game was all tied at 7-all. That drive took just four plays and 2:03 off the clock.
“It was a play-action pass and they just got behind us,” Hill said of the Hutch TD. “We thought they were going to run for the first down, and their receiver just slipped away for an easy throw and catch.”
The fourth quarter was mostly an exchange of possessions for the two teams, but late in the period, the Buffs muffed a punt with the Salthawks recovering on the GC 35-yard line. But the Buffs’ defense again came up big and on fourth down threw the Hutch runner for a big loss to just past midfield. With just more than a minute left, the Buffs were able to drive the ball to about the 25-yard line where it stalled and Hutch got the ball back one more time, but opted to take a knee and let the clock run out.
“For the most part, the kids competed and did a good job,” Hill said. “Our blocking assignments were better despite making a few mistakes. We knew with both teams having good defenses that possessions would be limited and be more important. We didn’t want to lose the game on offense with the defense playing so well.”
The Buffs would finish the game with 182 rushing yards on 46 carries, a 4.6 average per carry. Junior quarterback Caleb Wiese went to the air only six times, completing two, for 14 total yards.
It was the Buffs’ defense, however, that came up big all night, harassing Salthawk quarterback Noah Khokhar and keeping him to just 27 yards on 11 carries. He was also hurried into completing just 3 of-12 passes for 92 yards and was sacked three times.
That efficiency on the defensive side of the ball held the Salthawks to just 29 rushing yards and 121 total yards, averaging only 2.7 yards per play. Linemen Saul Perez and Terrell Elliott had six tackles each, four of them unassisted, and Sergio Garcia added five. Perez and Garcia each had a tackle for loss.
It was a far cry different team than had played seven days before at Buffalo Stadium in an opening season 21-6 loss to Manhattan. The Buffs’ opening opponent made it two straight with a 37-21 victory over rival Junction City. And it wasn’t lost on Hill that perhaps Manhattan is better than most people think.
“We knew that they had put together a solid team before we played them,” Hill said of Manhattan. “It won’t surprise me if they make a deep run later in the season.”
After the game-ending celebration, the nearly 3-hour bus ride home was subdued, Hill said.
“It was quiet and that’s because the kids had given that much effort,” Hill said. “It’s been interesting to watch this team learn how to win. It wasn’t the prettiest, but the fact we were able to come out victorious, it gives a lot of confidence to these kids. You can’t always give that to them.”
With the win, the Buffs are now 1-1 and will return home Friday night (Sept. 17) to host the Wichita West Pioneers. The visitors will bring a 1-1 mark into Buffalo Stadium after their 48-18 win over Wichita Southeast in Week 2. They had lost 28-6 to Dodge City in their season opener.
Billy Watson of The Hutchinson News contributed to this story.
Garden City 7; 0; 0; 0; 6; -- 13
Hutchinson 0; 0; 7; 0; 0; -- 7
GC—Colin Kleysteuber three-yard run (Isaac Rivera kick), 4:23, 7-0.
HUT—Malaki Miller 51-yard pass from Noah Khokhar (Taysen Runyan kick), 1:53, 7-7.
GC—Colin Kleysteuber 1 run (End of Game)
First downs 9; 6
3rd down conversions 3-13; 1-13
4th down conversions 2-3; 1-3
Rushes-Yards 46-182; 33-29
Passing Yards 14; 92
Passes (Com-Att-Int) 2-6-0; 3-12-0
Plays-Total Yards 52-196; 45-121
Penalties-Yards 5-42; 5-51
Fumbles-Lost 2-1; 0-0
Punts-Avg. 6-35.5; 6-36.7
Possession Time 27:52; 20:08
RUSHING—GC: Kleysteuber 26-114, Arteaga 4-48, Wiese 5-11, Koesengphet 3-6, Allen 1-1, Charite 4-6, Ramsey 1-1, A. Chairez 2-1; HUT: Hogan 10-19, Burgess 5-11, Khokhar 11-27, Hernandez 3-(-1), Armstrong 3-(-4), Team 1-0.
PASSING—GC: Wiese 2-6-0—14; HUT: Khokhar 3-12-0—92.
RECEIVING—GC: Ramsey 1-11; Arteaga 1-3; HUT: Miller 1-51, O’Sullivan 1-34, Burgess 1-7.