Josh Janas ran for nearly 200 yards and the Garden City High School defense made a stop when it needed to as the Buffaloes secured their first win of the season on Friday in Hays, downing the Indians 35-32.
The Buffs improved to 1-3 after three-straight losses to begin the season.
“I’m so happy for my kids first and foremost,” GCHS head coach Brian Hill said, “and to see a little pep in their step. We didn’t let adversity get us down tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of my players and coaches.”
And the Buffs had quite a bit of adversity. They fell behind early like they have all season — allowing a long Hays touchdown run — and lost starting quarterback Carlos Acosta to injury on what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown drive.
Sophomore Zane Burns — seeing his first varsity action — replaced Costa at quarterback, and finished off the touchdown march, capped by Janas running in the go-ahead score with 4 minutes to play. Up just a point after the score, the Buffs ran a trick play where Janas threw a halfback pass to usual starting linebacker Alex Rodriguez to put the Buffs up 3.
It was a play Burns had never run before, and the Buffs had just installed this week.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Zane Burns, who doesn’t get a lot of snaps in practice. For him to come in and get the snap and make sure the handoffs get done, that’s not an easy thing to do in your first high school game,” Hill said.
Burns never attempted a pass, but the snaps and handoffs were clean, allowing the Buffs the opportunity to ride Janas — who finished with 193 yards and two touchdowns — into the victory.
But even that never would have been possible without two big catches from a freshman receiver who just joined the varsity squad two weeks ago — Jerry Arteaga.
Arteaga twice made catches to convert third-down attempts for the Buffs, and both times the drives ended in touchdowns for the Buffs. The first came early in the second quarter when Acosta hit Arteaga for 35 yards on third-and-7, which may have “turned this whole thing around,” Hill said, calling it a “tremendous catch.”
It was Arteaga’s first high school catch, and five plays later the Buffs were in the end zone on a Janas 3-yard run.
Arteaga made his second and final catch of the night to convert another third down on the Buffs’ game-winning drive, as well.
Hays had one final drive to try to steal the game from the Buffs. Starting at its own 44, Hays got down to the Garden City 13 in four plays. But a 15-yard offensive penalty pushed Hays back to the Garden City 26, and a run for no gain and two straight incomplete passes turned the ball over on downs — the Buffs had held on.
“This game was about guts,” Hill said. “We had a lot of guys play a lot of downs, and they showed guts. It was a joy for me to watch them do it.”
The big downside may be Acosta’s health, as the senior multi-year starter injured his knee.
“We’re hoping it’s not an ACL (injury),” Hill said. “We’re not 100 percent sure. The weekend will tell us a lot.”
The Indians got off to the quick start by stopping the Buffs’ opening drive, and then scoring on a 73-yard Roy Moroni run on the second play of the Hays drive. Garden City answered to make it 7-6 after the first period.
But to start the second, it was another long run — this time a 65-yard Dylan Dreiling scamper — that put Hays up 13-6. The Buffs immediately answered once again on a nine-play, 78-yard drive capped by Janas’ 3-yard burst.
Moroni broke off a 33-yard touchdown run on Hays’ ensuing possession to make it 20-12 midway through the second quarter.
Once again, the offense stepped up to keep the Buffs in it, this time mounting a 10-play, 86-yard drive to score on Acosta’s 4-yard run. Acosta also ran in the two-point conversion to send the game into halftime tied at 20.
The Buffs took their first lead of the game — and the season — early in the second half as Acosta hit Durst for 51 yards and the 27-20 lead. Hays answered with a Hayden Brown touchdown run to make it 27-26 Buffs, before Brown hit Dylan Ruder for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give Hays the lead back, 32-27.
One final time, the offense put together a long, griding drive for a score — this time, they went 76 yards in 12 plays and drained nearly 6 minutes off the clock.