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Interception keys Panthers' 38-24 victory over Mustangs
Great Bend WR Cooper Ohnmacht picks up the kick off and scores a touchdown .jpg
Great Bend WR Cooper Ohnmacht picks up the kick-off and scores a touchdown against the Garden City Buffaloes during Friday night's football game at the Memorial Stadium in Great Bend. - photo by Hugo Gonzalez

Interception keys Panthers playoff victory


SALINA – Salina Central had run 30 offensive plays to three snaps by Great Bend when freshman phenom Cooper Ohnmacht swung the momentum with a game-changing 72-yard interception return that ignited a 38-24 football playoff victory.

“Once No. 23 (Ohnmacht) gets in the open, he’s electric,” said Great Bend coach Erin Beck. “That was our defense in a nutshell. Our defense came away with two huge takeaways. Salina Central controlled the football and the clock.”

The Panthers (6-3) earn a showdown with No. 1 Western seed Wichita Kapaun-Mt. Carmel (8-1) after avenging a 42-35 season-ending setback to Salina Central in 2022. The Panthers hadn’t beaten the Mustangs in Salina since 1987.

“It’s win-and-advance, which is good for this football team,” Beck said. “5A goes through Kapaun. We happen to play them in round two. This team is capable of anything. Let’s get ready to roll.”

Panther quarterback Daxton Minton pulled a Houdini act when he escaped heavy pressure for a dazzling 8-yard touchdown pass to Ian Premer, who touched a foot in bounds in the end zone with nine seconds left for a 17-6 halftime lead. Trenton Kern's blocked punt set up the 15-yard scoring drive. 

“Daxton made an unbelievable play at the end of the half,” beck said. “He made a backyard football play. When things break down, he finds his classmate Ian Premer.”

Great Bend (6-3) delivered second-half knockout blows with a 70-yard scoring drive and a clutch tackle and recovery by Kale Kern that forced a Mustang fumble at the Panther 2-yard line. Maddox Spray’s 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Minton handed the Panthers a shocking 31-6 lead.

Minton passed for 166 yards and rushed for 94 yards to key the Panthers’ offense. Cody Miller gained 55 hard-fought yards along with 37 receiving yards.

“They were coming off the edge and blitzed linebackers,” Beck said. “But Cody Miller found nice creases here-and-there. We missed Colton Brack and had to adapt. Kale Kern and Cooper Ohnmacht did a nice job keeping us rolling.”

Once again, standout Trenton Kern delivered another highlight reel play when he returned the Mustangs’ onside kickoff 46 yards for a clinching touchdown and a 38-12 lead.

“That speaks well for how tuned in Trenton is,” Beck said. “He’s an old-school type of football player. Trenton is always around the football.”

Kern earned his team’s respect when he defended quarterback Minton, who was tackled five yards out-of-bounds.

The Mustangs (6-3) outgained the Panthers 466-297 and ran 87 offensive plays compared to 46 by the Panthers. Linebacker Matthew Johnson contributed seven tackles and nine assists. Trenton Kern had three tackles and 10 assists.

Salina Central tailback Elijah Wilson rushed for 216 yards, but his fumble cost the Mustangs. Quarterback Jack Gordon completed 24 passes for 233 yards, but Ohnmacht's interception spoiled his night. Gordon threw a pair of touchdown passes to Tyrus Young and a 25-yard scoring strike to Sam Payne to make the final score respectable.

“We didn’t give up electric plays. I liked the scheme that our defensive coaches put together,” Beck said. “Kaiden Hoffman played in a role that he hadn’t done. Cooper Liles played underneath coverage. Maddox Spray, Ohnmacht and Ian Premer over the top helped us a ton.”

Great Bend 7 10 7 14 – 38

Salina Central 6 0 0 18 – 24

SC—Tyrus Young 16 pass from Jack Gordon (kick blocked); GB—Cooper Ohnmacht 72 interception return (Diego Soto kick); GB—Soto 21 FG; GB—Ian Premer 8 pass from Daxton Minton (Soto kick); GB—Miller 2 run (Soto kick); GB—Maddox Spray 67 pass from Minton (Soto kick); SC—Elijah Wilson 3 run (pass fails); GB—Trenton Kern 46 kickoff return (Soto kick); SC—Sam Payne 25 pass from Gordon (run fails); SC—Young 9 pass from Gordon (run fails)

RUSHING—GB—29-135; Minton 9-96; Miller 17-57; Kale Kern 1-3; Ohnmacht 1-0; team 1-(-21); SC—47-233; Wilson 42-216; Gordon 5-17.

PASSING—GB—Minton 10-18-0, 159; SC—Gordon 24-40-1, 233.

RECEIVING—GB—Spray 3-75; Miller 2-37; Jacob Hall 2-21; Ohnmacht 1-13; Premer 2-13; SC—Ryker Grossner 6-63; Sam Payne 5-52; Hunter Mowery 3-46; Wilson 7-42; Young 3-30.


SECOND ROUND—Great Bend 6-3 at Kapaun-Mt. Carmel 8-1; Hutchinson High 7-2 at Maize South 7-2; Hays High 7-2 at Goddard Eisenhower 8-1; Maize High 4-5 at Liberal 8-1

FIRST ROUND—Wichita Kapaun-Mt. Carmel 63, Salina South 7; Great Bend 38, Salina Central 24; Maize South 41, Wichita Carroll 28; Hutchinson 52, Wichita West 28; Goddard Eisenhower 35, Andover 6; Hays High 31, Valley Center 14; Liberal 44, Newton 0; Maize 31, Goddard 22


SECOND ROUND—Topeka Seaman 5-4 at DeSoto 8-1; Spring Hill 7-2 at DeSoto 7-2; Lansing 5-4 at Blue Valley Southwest 8-1; Shawnee Heights 7-2 at Highland Park 7-2

FIRST ROUND—DeSoto 57, KC Turner 6; Topeka Seaman 62, KC Washington 12; Mill Valley 63, Topeka West 6; Spring Hill 63, Leavenworth 14; BV Southwest 56, Emporia 13; Lansing 19, Pittsburg 14; Highland Park 55, KC Harmon 7; Shawnee Heights 68, KC Sumner 0