Through the first half of Friday night’s season opener for the Garden City High School Buffaloes, it looked like the 2019 season would start off on the same sour note as the 2018 season.
The Derby Panthers led 41-0 through 24 minutes, and the Buffs seemed listless. But in the second half, the Buffs showed they were ready to fight back — scoring three touchdowns in the final two quarters. The final score was still squarely a Derby win at 48-19, but the feeling after the loss this year was different than last year’s 49-6 loss to the Panthers — who would go on to win the Class 6A state championship.
“I don’t think this is the same as last year, not just because of the score, but because of the way that our kids handled it,” GCHS head coach Brian Hill said as the Buffs dropped to 0-1 to begin the year. “I thought they did the things they needed to do to continue to fight and execute. I believe in the character of this football team, and I think as the season goes on you’ll see these kids grow up right before your eyes.”
The Buffs got a scoop-and-score fumble return from Alex Rodriguez to make it 48-6 in the third quarter, and then Carlos Acosta drilled a pin-point perfect pass to Erik Dominguez for the Buffs second touchdown with 6:20 to go. Then, Josh Janas ran in the final score of the game from 2 yards out with 1:36 to go.
“As the game went on, I kept watching more and more young kids get into the game and get more comfortable under the bright lights of Friday night,” Hill said. “I’m hoping down the road this will benefit us more than hurt us.”
There’s no doubt that Derby is as good of a football team as the state of Kansas has to offer, given the 2018 state championship.
“Here it is,” Hill said, “they got to go toe-to-toe, swap paint with the defending state champions. I thought the kids competed.”
And the Panthers seem like they are primed for another deep state tournament run, which gives the Buffs a glimpse at the level of play they would like to emulate.
“We’re a young team, and I feel like playing the best is one of the best experiences you could have,” the Buffs’ senior quarterback, Acosta, said. “We learned a lot as a team, and we’ve just got to get better from here.”
So what does Hill want the Buffs to take from the game?
“I hope what they found was the kind of effort, the kind of execution it takes to be a championship-level football team,” he said. “And that comes from practice and preparation.”
It’s a matter of taking what they learned and implementing it on the practice field.
“Now, everybody who hasn’t played has a feel for the game now and will bring that energy Monday,” Acosta said.
The Panthers wasted no time proving that 2019 may go exactly like 2018, scoring on their first drive of the game on a Grant Adler 9-yard run — Adler accounted for five touchdowns, two passing and three rushing. Then, the Panthers looked like they would score again on their next possession, but a 75-yard run was called back on a penalty, and the Buffs’ defense then forced a turnover to end the threat.
But the Buffs’ offense stalled, and Derby got the ball right back and Adler scored another rushing touchdown.
Then it was off to the races in the second quarter, when Adler ran for his third score — an 81-yard flash on the first play of the period — and then threw for two more, including a touchdown with 10 seconds to go in the half, putting the Panthers up 41-0 at the break.
Lem Wash’s 34-yard pass to Tre Washington in the third quarter put the finishing touches on the Panthers’ scoring, as the Buffs finally got themselves going late in the third.
Derby ended up with 529 yards of offense — though, Garden City out-gained them through the air 172-153. Adler ran for 188 yards on 11 carries for Derby.
The Buffs were led by Acosta’s air effort, going 15 of 27 for 172 yards and a touchdown, with two picks. Janas led the ground effort with 53 yards on 16 carries. Lane Durst was Acosta’s biggest receiving threat, hauling in five balls for 106 yards.
DHS: Adler 9 run (Simons kick), 10:24
DHS: Adler 6 run (kick missed), 3:49
DHS: Adler 81 run (Simons kick), 11:46
DHS: Washington 21 pass from Adler (Simons kick), 8:08
DHS: Washington 2 run (Simons kick), 6:21
DHS: Washington 5 pass from Adler (Simons kick), 0:10
DHS: Washington 34 pass from Wash (Simons kick), 3:19
GC: Rodriguez 75 fumble return (kick missed), 0:00
GC: Dominguez 24 pass from Acosta (Dvorak kick), 6:20
GC: Janas 2 run (kick missed), 1:36