GARDEN CITY— Following a 28-28 stalemate after three quarters the Garden City Buffaloes broke away with a 14-0 run in the final period handing Great Bend a 42-28 loss on a cool, windy Friday evening on the western Kansas plains.
The unbeaten Buffaloes improve to 3-0 and open Western Athletic Conference play at 1-0. Great Bend drops to 2-1 on the season and 1-1 in the WAC.
“This was tough,” said coach Tony Crough. “We get up 14-0 and think we’re cruising and then they rallied. We knew they wouldn’t quit with their speed and size. The whole night was just up and down and back forth and we’re just exhausted right now.”
Two buggaboos on the stat sheet were penalties and turnovers. Great Bend was flagged 11 times for nearly 100 yards and coughed up the ball four times.
“It’s very difficult to win games like that,” said Crough “Honestly I was pretty impressed that we were still in the game after those errors. We have to clean those things up.”
Garden City’s Jarod Koster proved to be a nemesis against the Panther defense scoring four times including two touchdown strikes from quarterback Jesse Nunez.
“We knew their running game was going to be phenomenal,” Crough said. “We knew that slowing them down was going to be a big task. At times we did and that meant using our offense to put points on the board. Our goal was to make them throw the ball. Things were really decided when they got the lead and used their line and backfield speed to take us down.”
Quarterback Jacob Murray and wide out Bryce Lytle drew first blood for the Panthers on a 37-yard touchdown pass with just less than seven minutes to go in the first quarter. Freshman kicker Carlos Franco, back from injury, hit the first of his four extra point tries giving Great Bend a 7-0 advantage at 6:52.
The Panthers then utilized a mountainous drive to send Murray on a one-yard quarterback keep into the Garden City end zone. Franco was good on the PAT with Great Bend sporting a 14-0 lead just 15 seconds into the second period.
Koster then erupted a little more than a minute later hauling in a 44-yard scoring run. The extra point kick by Ezequiel Herrera was true as the Buffaloes chipped away at the Great Bend lead trailing the Panthers 14-7.
Nunez then found Koster on a 74-yard strike at 3:08. Herrera tacked on the extra point sending both teams to intermission with a 14-14 tie.
Nunez connected with Koster again, this time from 65 yards out just 11 seconds into the second half. Herrera converted the PAY kick and Garden City took the lead for the first time in the ball game up 21-14.
Koster struck again with 9:53 left in the third on a 14-yard run. Herrera was good on the extra point as Garden City spread their lead, 28-14.
The Panthers rebounded on the ensuing possession as Murray went to Lytle once again on a 34-yard touchdown pass. Franco’s kick split the uprights with Great Bend down 28-21 at 8:25.
A Buffalo turnover at 6:36 set up a game-tying four-yard scoring run by Murray almost three minutes later. Franco knotted the game with his PAT kick with 3:40 left in the third quarter.
Garden City ended the period at the Great Bend two yardline and punched in the tiebreaker as Nunez scored on a quarterback keep four seconds into the fourth. Herrera banked on the extra point kick giving the Buffaloes a 35-28 advantage.
Garden City continued to ware down the Panther defense over the next several minutes of regulation.
At the 3:22 mark, Nunez scored on another quarterback keeper. Herrera added the PAT as the Panthers found themselves in a hole trailing 42-28.
“We have to learn from this,” Crough said. “Penalties and turnovers aside we’re proud of our kids. Despite the mistakes we showed tonight I was very pleased the effort. They never once gave up. We’re just a young team right now. We’ve learned how to win and now we’re learning how to lose which means we have the opportunity in front of us to get better, overcome this and move on to the next game.”