The last time the Garden City Buffaloes boys soccer team managed a win over rival Dodge City was Oct. 2, 2014.
The score was 2-1 and the game was played on the home turf of Buffalo Stadium.
Nearly three years to the day, the two Western Athletic Conference rivals were back on the same turf, and played to a final outcome of the same score.
Only this time, it was the visiting Red Demons who walked off the pitch with the all-important WAC triumph, moving them to 5-0 and 10-0 overall. It’s the rarified air of being the defending Class 6A state champions and ranked No. 8 nationally.
But, and it’s a big but, the Buffs have given the talented Demons their two closest battles of the current season, having lost to them just nine days earlier in Dodge, 3-1. The loss dropped the Buffs to 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the WAC.
“It’s just the little mistake here or there that is the difference,” a disappointed but philosophical GCHS head coach Joaquin Padilla said afterward. “We’re not far behind. Those little things — we’ll keep working on them and eventually it will pay off.”
Padilla was encouraged by the fact that the Buffs got off to a strong start, holding the high-octane Dodge offense scoreless for nearly 20 minutes of the first half.
It hasn’t been often that the Buffs have taken a lead over the Demons in recent seasons, but they did so in the 18th minute on a nifty shot by Alonso Vera into the high left side of the net over the outstretched arms of Dodge keeper Jesus Herrera.
“It was a great shot, and one that he has the ability to make,” Padilla said of Vera, just a sophomore. “We need him to play like that, more aggressively, all the time, but he came up with a big goal to get us going.”
But that 1-0 advantage was short-lived as the Demons’ Mario Martinez answered less than two minutes later on a bullet shot from the right hash mark at the 15-yard line that slid past Garden goalkeeper Jose Betanco.
The tied score remained that way until Dodge City took advantage of a tough misplay by Betanco.
On a rebound shot from Omar Estrada off the chest of Betanco, Estrada had a clear walk-in to the box and slapped the ball in with his foot as Garden’s players could only look on from behind.
That came in the 35th minute and resulted in a 2-1 halftime advantage for the Demons.
“I couldn’t really see what happened on the shot, but it was a big play, that second goal,” Padilla said.
And while the disappointment and solemn voices on the sideline afterward reflected the what ifs, or might have beens, Padilla said he was proud of the team’s effort.
“Overall, we played really well, even better than the first game,” he said. “They’re ranked and undefeated for a reason.”
Padilla said he was pleased with his team’s overall improvement in closing down on the Demons’ mid-fielders and forwards in the center of the pitch.
“It’s what you’ve gotta do against them, because they’re so explosive,” Padilla said of the Demons, who have scored in double digits on multiple occasions this season. “We hope to have another shot at them (6A playoffs).”
Dodge City coach Saul Hernandez, meanwhile, said the close battle was of no surprise to him. It’s what he has come to expect.
“We know how tough they are and we expect them (Garden) to come out and play hard,” Hernandez said. “The close games are good for us, and it’s always a big game. They always give us a good test and we just try to come and be prepared.”
Hernandez said he liked the way his team responded after falling behind for one of only three times this season.
“Every time we’ve trailed, we’ve been able to respond with a goal,” Hernandez said. “We were able to get the equalizer (Martinez) and then got a great goal from Omar (Estrada). Toward the end, we put a lot into our defense because we knew they would bring their forwards up.”
Both teams return to action on Tuesday, Garden City traveling to Liberal and Dodge City hosting Hays. Both are WAC match-ups and both are 5:30 p.m. starts.