Buhler’s lone loss on its way to the Class 4A football title was at home to Andale.
Buhler, ranked third in Class 4A-Division I, plays at Andale, top-ranked in 4A-Division II, on Friday night.
“It’s like a state championship where it’s a huge game,” Buhler coach Steve Warner said. “They’re very successful every year, a great coaching staff. We know we need to be at our very best, Game 1.
“I think it’s helped us through the summer, through the offseason, knowing we’re playing Andale.”
Buhler has had other big-time openers, with Warner pointing out that his team has opened with Rose Hill six of his eight seasons.
“We’re used to it,” Warner said. “Andale’s used to it.”
Buhler is led by standout junior quarterback Jace Williams and defensive linemen Chase Shantz, Davey Dukart and Jaden Abernathy. The defense will be tasked with stopping a physical Andale offense that includes senior running back Hunter Knoblauch, who had 1,753 rushing yards in 2013.
The Crusaders’ start of school was delayed until Thursday due to construction on the building. Warner doubts that’s an advantage.
“They’ve done nothing but think about football, they’re more fresh when they come to practice with more energy,” he said. “I’ll know if it was an advantage Friday night. The thing I’m worried about is now that we have school, they certainly can’t be tired on Friday.”
Derby coach Brandon Clark, whose team won 6A in 2013, and Warner each won their first titles last season.
Even though they are now defending champs, the season’s preparation didn’t change.
“We all want to win every game and be the best team we can be,” Clark said. “Winning a state championship is in the past. It’s time to get better. We treat it like any other year.”
“The excitement is in the air,” he said. “It’s the first game, that (championship run) is in the past. It’s something we’re proud of, but it’s no different.”
The pressure hasn’t changed, either. Clark and Warner said they put enough pressure on themselves that they’re unaffected by outside expectations.
“I think our fans now think, ‘Oh, let’s win it every year.’ I felt a lot of pressure for coaching for 30 years and not winning,” Warner said. “The pressure wasn’t taken off, but satisfaction is there.”