The time is now.
After an 0-3 start to the season, the Garden City Buffaloes are now 2-4 with two games to play. With playoff seeding also looming in the background, there’s only one thing on the minds of the Buffs this week: The Hatchet.
At 7 p.m. Friday at Buffalo Stadium, the Buffs and their bitter rival Dodge City Red Demons will meet for the 121st time, and for the 82nd time in the official “Hatchet” series. And despite the Buffs slow start to the season, they are 2-0 in the WAC and would take full control of the conference race with a win over the Demons, who are 6-0 overall and also 2-0 in the WAC.
“It’s an exciting time,” GCHS head coach Brian Hill said. “To be my 10th time to be a part of this is something special — a traveling trophy, the two biggest communities in western Kansas get together and been doing this for such a long time — it’s just an honor to be a part of it.”
Adding to the excitement is that the 1999 Class 6A state championship team will be returning to Garden CIty for the 20-year anniversary of the only football title in school history.
“To get coach (Dave) Meadows and some of the other coaches to come back is a big deal for our program,” Hill said. “To celebrate them, and I’m sure it doesn’t seem like it’s been 20 years to them, but it’s an exciting time to bring them back.”
Since that state title season, the Buffs have moved to a new high school and a new field, and Friday night will be a chance to show that off to the returning players and coaches.
“Like I told (Meadows) earlier this week, hopefully we can make him proud,” Hill said.
Hill is 5-4 vs. the Demons in his time at the helm of the Buffs — including a last-second loss by the Buffs that kept them out of the playoffs in 2015 when a point-after kick was blocked, denying a tied game. The Buffs finished the year 7-2 that season, but missed the postseason.
In 2016 and 2017, the Buffs rolled through Dodge City, in lopsided games. But last season, Dodge City won a 27-7 blowout. The Buffs would like a little bit of revenge for that by denying Dodge City an outright WAC crown.
And even though none of the players on the team this year would have been in high school in 2015, they know how important this game is to each school.
“You don’t really have to say anything (to the players),” Hill said. “The kids understand what’s at stake — for both communities, I think it’s just an exciting time.”
Dodge City is led by quarterback Beau Foster, who is a dual threat, accounting for 341 offensive yards vs. Hays a week ago. Dodge is out-scoring opponents 204-100, and the split is even more pronounced in the first half. In the first 24 minutes of games, Dodge City has out-scored opponents 119-28.
And the Buffs are aware of that quick-strike danger for the Demons.
“We’re just talking about what we need to do to stop them,” safety Christian Reyes said earlier this week,” not allowing the deep plays over our head.”
The Buffs will again be without Carlos Acosta at quarterback, and will have Zane Burns behind center for his third start. But expect a top effort from the Buffs still, just because of the jersey color lining up on the other side.
“You know both teams are going to play as well as they can play,” Hill said. “You’re going to get both teams’ A-game. You learn anything can happen, and whether it;s good or bad you’ve got to learn how to handle it. In this game, it’s just magnified that much more.”