The Buhler football team has lost to Topeka Hayden in the Class 4A playoffs the last two seasons. They'll try to end that streak tonight in Topeka.
Last season, Buhler entered the game with an 11-1 record, but short one very important player: 2,559-yard rusher Jorden Oden had suffered a broken collarbone the week before against Rose Hill.
Buhler's current running back, Tanner Fisher, started that game and had 11 rushes for 79 yards in an atmosphere at Hayden that was overwhelming.
"I'm expecting a different outcome this year," Fisher said. "We've gone there the last two years and got beat both times to get kicked out of the playoffs. This year it will change."
Buhler (11-0) is a different team. Fisher has a season's worth of games being the go-to-guy in Buhler's offense, piling up 1,967 yards and 39 touchdowns.
"It's a much better feeling," said Buhler fullback Jordan Stiles, who blocked for Oden last season and Fisher in 2010. "With Oden out, everybody was worried about how we were going to perform without our star running back. This year we have everybody healthy. We're 100 percent ready."
Buhler coach Steve Warner is sure his team will not have to find any extra motivation.
"They all remember. They were one the sidelines. They watched the game if they weren't starters," Warner said. "They know that we need to play well. They know what the atmosphere is going to be like. We've been in this situation going on three years. In the last five years since I've been here, we've at least won one playoff game. We're getting used to that experience and the pressure, and I think that helps our team."
Fisher said Buhler's defense gives it an upgraded chance to battle Hayden (10-1). Buhler's defense has played nine games in which it has allowed 10 points or fewer and has four shutouts to its repertoire. Stiles has 82 tackles playing linebacker and is a defensive leader. He's seen the defense's confidence grow as the season progressed.
"We focus a lot on the defense. We know our offense can get it done," Stiles said. "We pride ourselves, in every game, trying to get a shutout. That's our goal for every game. We set our goals high."