HATCHET GAME Demons grab 36-29 2 OT win over Buffaloes

GCHS Athletics
Garden City High School running back Zack Keosengphet runs into the endzone, untouched the last five yards, to score his first of three first half touchdowns Friday against Dodge City in the Hatchet Game at Buffalo Stadium.

Decades ago, when ABC-TV was broadcasting the weekly Saturday Wide World of Sports, the slogan of the show when it was introduced on-air was, “The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat.”

No truer words can be spoken when it comes to the annual Hatchet Game between the Garden City Buffaloes and the Dodge City Red Demons football teams.

And no truer words or reactions could adequately describe the scene on Friday when the visiting Red Demons overcame an 18-point first-half deficit, and then had to survive a last-minute game-tying touchdown by the Buffs to go into overtime.

And even then, things didn’t go right. But when everything had finally ended after only the second double-overtime game in the long history of the Hatchet, Dodge City had somehow prevailed with a 36-29 triumph over the Buffaloes at Buffalo Stadium.

“It’s just a really tough loss,” GCHS head coach Brian Hill said Sunday, nearly 48 hours after the game ended. “We just couldn’t overcome the mistakes we made in the third quarter. For the longest time, we couldn’t get out of our own way.”

Hill was referring to two lost fumbles and two interceptions in the final two quarters of regulation and also in the second overtime that ended the game on a Dodge theft in the back of the end zone.

Garden City High School linebacker Joel Bellows, left, flies into the Dodge City backfield to sack quarteback Tucker Smith Friday at Buffalo Stadium.

“Penalties, turnovers, short punt to give them a short field to score,” Hill indicated, “all just conspired to put us in a hole.”

It was a monumental battle, and a battle of not only wills, but the roller-coaster of momentum as it swung back and forth much like a Kansas wind typically would do.

In this case, though, the weather never became the story like it had in the same stadium in 2019 when sleet, wind and cold temperatures felled the Buffs, 17-7.

This time, it was almost the Tale of Two Cities. First half was owned by the Buffs. Second half was won by the Demons. And it ended in a wild and crazy 29-all tie when the 48 minutes of action finally ended.

Garden had taken a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter, but Dodge got a stunning 52-yard field goal from senior placekicker Emanuel Aguilar, who had already booted a Hatchet Game and DCHS school record 55-yarder in the first quarter. That was all the scoring the Demons could manage as the Buffs’ ball-control offense dominated the clock.

That big first-half advantage soon withered away as the Demons scored on the first possession of the third quarter, then took advantage of a Garden City turnover and quickly scored again, making it a 21-19 toss-up with just under three minutes left in the period.

In the fourth quarter, as the game drama grew and grew with each possession and each play, Dodge City went ahead for the first time on Tucker Smith’s 3-yard plunge with 10:23 on the clock. Aguilar’s PAT boot made it 26-21 Demons.

The Buffs took the ensuing kickoff and marched down the field to the Dodge 29 before an intercepted pass in the end zone ended the threat. Dodge would take the ball and get far enough to give Aguilar an opportunity to boot his third field goal of the game, and the strong-legged senior did just that, booting this one from 42-yards away with plenty to spare.

That made it 29-21 with 3:31 on the clock and time was ticking away as the Buffs had no timeouts remaining.

On the first play from their next drive, the Buffs fumbled the ball away on a bad pitch only to have the Demons return the favor two plays later, setting the Buffs up on their own 30 with 3:16 showing.

Using a hurry-up offense, the Buffs made it all the way to the Demons’ 11-yard line and with only 50 seconds left and facing second-and-11, got a huge pass on the left flat from Caleb Wiese to Jerry Arteaga who danced into the end zone, making it 29-27 with 0:45.9 seconds left. Zack Keosengphet added the critical 2-point conversion on a run up the middle to knot the score.

Garden City High School defensive back Ryan Heiman, right, knocks the ball away from Dodge City wide receiver Dylan Smith on a pass play Friday at Buffalo Stadium.

“That final drive I was so proud of how our kids reacted to the situation,” Hill said. “With a flexbone offense (predicated to running the ball), we made big plays and the kids handled the clock perfectly. We ran a hurry-up offense but there wasn’t a panic. And we did that without a timeout. Even the two-point conversion, we didn’t have time to discuss the importance, yet we ran a play to get us the tying points. At that moment, I really felt we had regained the momentum.”

Dodge’s final drive of regulation ended when Buffs’ defensive lineman sacked Smith for an 11-yard loss as the clock ran out.

In the first overtime, the Buffs got the ball first at the 10-yard line and twice came up short on attempted runs up the middle from the 1-yard line. Then, the Demons had their chance and on second down after a 3-yard gain from the 10, opted to put the game in Aguilar’s foot and to a stunned crowd, hooked the ball wide left to send the game to the second overtime.

“Sometimes, you think there is an omen as to what the outcome might be,” Hill said. “When he (Aguilar) missed the field goal in overtime, I thought we had a great chance to win the game.”

Dodge had the ball first this time and it took them just two plays to score, this one on a 2-yard run by Rudy Hernandez and Aguilar’s PAT kick made it 36-29. The Buffs’ opportunity to tie or potentially win was derailed by a holding penalty that negated a TD run by Emmanuel Charite. That moved the ball back to the 20-yard line and on third-and-goal from the 17, Dodge picked off a deep pass into the end zone by Wiese that ended the dramatic night.

“The difficulty in dealing with the loss is that when we did the right things and did a good job, we had control of the game,” Hill said. “But all the self-inflicting plays took all of that away.”

Hill had many positives to consider, but especially Keosengphet, a 5-10, 170-pounder, who racked up one of the best rushing stats nights in recent GCHS history with his 38 carries, 201 yards and 3 touchdowns.

“Consider that he didn’t play last year (sophomore season) because of COVID,” Hill said. “He continues to grow as a player and to put forth that effort without ever complaining about the number of carries says a lot about his competitiveness. He never once asked to come out of the game.”

It was the 84th playing of the Hatchet Game and the Demons now hold a 52-31-1 advantage. The overall series, which is among the oldest in Kansas, dates back to 1903 and Dodge has a 75-45-4 lead. Buffs’ head coach Brian Hill is now 6-6 in Hatchet Games.

The Buffs fall to 4-3 overall and are 2-1 in the WAC. Dodge City is now 5-2 overall and finishes 3-1 in the WAC along with Hays High. The Buffs close out their regular season at Great Bend on Friday with a chance to earn a three-way tie for the WAC title. Dodge City hosts Wichita Southeast in a non-conference match-up.

“We will have to take some time for the recovery from this loss to take place,” Hill said of the upcoming week to prepare for Great Bend (0-3/0-7). I feel worst for the seniors, so we’re going to need a little fellowship and get back together (on Monday). The game Friday weighs a little heavier than other games.”

WAC Notes: The wide-open WAC race tightened up with the result of the Hatchet Game. The Garden-Great Bend game is the only one remaining in the WAC. Liberal finished 1-3 and is 3-4 overall. Great Bend currently is 0-3 and 0-7 overall. Hays improved to 6-1 in all games with a last-minute TD to defeat Maize South 47-43 while Liberal lost to Wichita-Kapaun Mt. Carmel, 51-0, and Great Bend was dropped by Goddard-Eisenhower, 33-2.

In Week 8, it was be Garden City at Great Bend, Liberal at winless Wichita North, Dodge hosting Wichita Southeast and Hays traveling to Wichita Northwest. Week 9 KSHSAA Play-In Games on Oct. 29 will be bracketed following Week 8 games, with pairings and sites to be announced on Saturday, Oct. 23.

Team Statistics

Dodge City; Garden City

First downs 11; 20

Rushes-Yards 32-75; 55-269

Passing Yards 144; 40

Passes (Com-Att-Int) 9-15-1; 4-9-2

Total Yards 219; 309

Penalties-Yards 10-85; 11-90

Scoring Summary

Dodge City 3; 3; 13; 10; 0; 7; -- 36

Garden City 7; 14; 0; 8; 0; 0; -- 29

First Quarter

GC—Zack Keosengphet 30 run (Issac Rivera kick), 7-0. 5:03. 17 plays, 80 yards, 6:57 possession.

DC—Emanuel Aguilar 55 field goal, 7-3. 1:03.

Second Quarter

GC—Zack Keosengphet 2 run (Issac Rivera kick), 14-3. 4:00. 15 plays, 80 yards, 8:35 possession.

GC—Zack Keosengphet 7 run (Issac Rivera kick), 21-3. 0:39. 5 plays, 25 yards, 2:16 possession.

DC—Emanuel Aguilar 52 field goal, 21-6. 0:00.

Third Quarter

DC—Dylan Smith 34 pass from Tucker Smith (Run failed), 21-12. 8:17.

DC—Tucker Smith 1 run (Emanuel Aguilar kick), 21-19. 2:58.

Fourth Quarter

DC—Tucker Smith 2 run (Emanuel Aguilar kick), 21-26. 10:23.

DC—Emanuel Aguilar 42 field goal, 21-29. 3:31.

GC—Jerry Arteaga 11 pass from Caleb Wiese (Zack Keosengphet run), 29-29. 0:45.9. 10 plays, 70 yards, 2:30 possession.