Larned at Pratt. What a season-opener! Season-maker? Season-breaker?
Could be both, for either team. Predicting a winner is about as easy as skinning an armadillo! Defending state champion in 4A-II, the Greenbacks return enough talent to be a factor in the ultra-tough Central Kansas League. Returning All-State running back Travis Theis makes Pratt a factor in any game.
The Larned Indians are the unknown, the darkhorse in the CKL. After an 0-6 start to the 2016 season, the Indians turned things around and were a strong football team going down the stretch. Much of that team returns. A quick review of last year’s stats shows that Larned battled Pratt on even terms throughout that season-opener before a couple of late-game touchdowns allowed the eventual state champions to prevail 31-16.
The smart money is on Pratt, but I like the Indians in what will be considered an upset around the state.Pratt starts two seniors on a young ball club. The Indians will counter with nine senior starters on both offense and defense.
Both teams have terrific running backs but this game will be decided in the trenches. Keys to the game are the offensive and defensive lines. Usually the first game of a season doesn’t carry this much importance but this is a BIG ONE for both ball clubs. Look for a tight slugfest!
Coach Erin Beck’s Great Bend Black Panthers turned a lot of heads in 2016 with their 10-2 season and, at one point, rising to the No. 1 ranking in 5A. Gone are record-setting quarterback Jacob Murray and wide receiver Bryce Lytle, both garnering 5A all-state honors.
Shed no tears for the Black Panthers. Koy Brack, a terrific wide receiver will more than adequately take over at quarterback. Dalton Miller who had one of the strongest seasons by a freshman in all of Kansas in 2016, will be a featured running back.
Three of the first four games are on the road, but Great Bend is battle tested. The Panthers travel to Coffeyville Friday, a 4A-I team that went 4-6 in 2016. The Golden Tornado will give Great Bend a test but they don’t have enough firepower to hang in for four quarters with Great Bend. Panthers 38-13.
BEST OF THE REST
• It’s hard to be much better than Hoisington was in 2016, spending most of the season ranked No. 1 in 3A and finishing 12-1, the best season in school history. The Cardinals tangle with Lyons Friday which will give coach Zach Baird the chance to figure out just where this team is at. Hoisington 44, Lyons 13.
• The turmoil of losing their head coach just days before the first practices might deter some teams but Ellinwood will have enough mettle to outlast Kinsley.
• Two long-time powerhouses, Central Plains and Victoria open the season Friday evening in a game that should provide a lot of fireworks. The Oilers win a high-scoring affair!
• The Kansas Jayhawks open in Lawrence Saturday with a game they should (better) win. The Jayhawks are markedly better this year but will still find wins difficult to come by. You’ve got to be careful though when you play those schools with directions in their name! Kansas 38, SE Mizzou 20.
• Kansas State opens at home Saturday evening against another of those directional schools as Central Arkansas provides the main course and even a snack or two as they pick up their check for providing a less-than-stiff opposition.
K-State is GOOD. Central Arkansas, though they were 10-3 in 2016, aren’t at the Wildcats’ level. A good first half by the Bears will get lost in the heat of the second half. Kansas State 49, Central Arkansas 16.
Buddy Tabler is a guest columnist for the Great Bend Tribune and his views don’t necessarily reflect those of the paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.