The Great Bend Panthers played their best football of the season for three quarters against state-ranked Class 5A powerhouse Salina South.
Great Bend coach Tony Crough knew the only way the Panthers would qualify for the Class 5A playoffs was to beat the Cougars by 14 points due to the 21-point tiebreaker.
The Panthers built a 21-14 lead by scoring on the final play of the first half and adding two third-quarter touchdowns. The Panthers were able to keep the pressure on defensively for three periods.
At that point, the Panthers had outplayed and outcoached the Cougars from Salina.
But the third-ranked Salina South Cougars outscored the Panthers 21-0 in the fourth period to pull away for a 35-21 playoff-clinching victory over Great Bend at Memorial Stadium.
"That's as well as we've played football all season. We were happy with our effort because we had a chance in the fourth period," said Great Bend coach Tony Crough. "We threw the ball and caught the ball better than we had all season and we ran the ball effectively."
Salina South (8-1, 3-0 District) clinches District 6 and will play Wichita Kapaun-Mt. Carmel (6-3) at home Friday. Great Bend finishes with a 3-6 record, 1-2 in District 6.
The Panthers had no answer for South quarterback Dylan Wassenberg, who completed 14 passes for 203 yards. The Panthers were unable to defend South receiver Dylan Becker, who caught 31- and 46-yard touchdowns with six receptions for 138 yards.
"We had to take chances defensively and blitz some. Most of the night we had to commit defense to stopping their running game," Crough said. "If they were going to beat us, they had to beat us over the top of our defense. They threw it and caught it a couple of times."
Great Bend quarterback Shade Wondra also played solidly with 10 completions for 120 yards, highlighted by touchdown passes to Thomas Bobbitt and Jacob Murray. Murray handed the Panthers a 14-6 lead after halftime with a 45-yard touchdown run with a run out of a Wildcat formation.
Bobbitt's 22-yard touchdown reception came on the final play of the first half for a 7-6 lead.
The Cougars made only one major mistake, a lost fumble. Wassenberg took one play to hook up with Becker for a touchdown with 3:02 left in the first half.
But the Panthers stunned the Cougars on the final play of the first half. The Panthers built that momentum on Murray's 45-yard touchdown off a perfect fake with 9:32 left in the third period.
The Cougars responded on Becker's 48-yard touchdown pass from Wassenberg for 14-14 tie after Jacob Marcotte caught a 2-point conversion with 8:44 left in the third period.
Great Bend rallied with one of its best drives of the football season. The Panthers roared 76 yards on 11 plays. Murray juggled his catch, but hung on the endzone for a 21-14 lead with 4:31 left in third period.
South finally took control with a 15-play, 78-yard capped by Sam Corona's 1-yard run for a 21-21 tie. The Panthers missed a fourth down from midfield and the Cougars converted another missed fourth-down conversion into a two-touchdown lead.
"It was unfortunate that we had to go for things at the end in a tie football game," Crough said. "But that was the situation we found ourselves in."
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Class 5A District 8
At Memorial Stadium
Salina South 35, Great Bend 21
Salina South 0 6 8 21 -- 35
Great Bend 0 7 14 0 -- 21
SS--Becker 31 pass from Wassenburg (kick failed), 3:02
GB--Bobbitt 22 pass from Wondra (Dominquez kick), 0:00
GB--Murray 45 run (Dominquez kick), 8:44
GB--Murray 17 pass from Wondra (Dominquez kick), 4:31
SS--Corona 5 run (Avila-Castro kick). 10:40
SS--Becker 5 pass from Wassenbrug (Avila-Castro kick), 7:48
SS--Wassenberg 6 run (Avilo-Castro kick), 4:36
RUSHING--SS 39-129; Corona 24-77; Stegmaier 7-31; Wassenberg 7-22; team 1-(-1); GB, 35-146; Murray 8-71; Usselton 11-35; Bobbitt 4-14; Wondra 5-16; Lytle 5-8.
PASSING--SS, Wassenberg 14-18-0, 203; GB, Wondra 9-20-0, Murray 2-2-0 24.
RECEIVING--SS, Becker 6-139; Marcotte 7-61; Weir 1-3; GB, Bobbitt 2-47; Lytle 3-47; Usselton 2-2; Murray 1-17; Denney 1-6.