BY JIM MISUNAS
Gage Fritz and teammate Jeffrey Spragis are two of Great Bend’s lightest football warriors.
As usual, the 5-foot-7 Fritz and 5-6 Superman Spragis displayed their typical heart and desire to spark the Panthers’ 49-6 football victory over Garden City that clinched an unbeaten Western Athletic Conference championship.
“What’s gratifying is two of our undersized players came up big again tonight – Fritz and Spragis,” said Great Bend coach Erin Beck. “Jeffrey has been a sparkplug. He goes low to make tackles.”
The 160-pound Fritz and the Panthers’ offensive line was on fire. Fritz rushed for a career high 177 yards scored on 26- and 47-yard touchdowns as the Panthers roared to a 35-0 halftime lead over Garden City. Time-after-time, Fritz broke tackles and sprinted upfield on inside trap plays.
The Panthers rushed for 226 yards behind center Kaden Schroeder, guards Payton Doll and Marcus Schmeidler and tackles Andrew Wettengel and Eric Vazquez.
“I want to run the football. I played for my football brothers and everyone here,” Fritz said. “We wanted to come out and win a WAC title and show we can play with anyone. I give everything to my offensive line tonight.”
Great Bend (6-2, 4-0 WAC) clinches the third seed in the West and will meet Valley Center (3-5) in the Oct. 26 5A playoffs. The Panthers earn their first 4-0 WAC record in 11 years and the ninth WAC championship since 1984.
“They wanted this title for a long time. Our defense stopped their ground game and we efficiently ran the football. It was a great job all-around in all facets of the game.”
Fritz converted a 26-yard touchdown after the Buffaloes gifted the Panthers a free first down on an offside penalty.
“Gage ran hard. That was fun to watch,” Beck said. “He lowered his pad level, spun off and earned extra yards against their linebackers. Our offensive line did a great job.”
Panther safety Dalton Miller teamed with tackler Townshend Kurth for a vintage defensive play with a strip on Ethan Martin for a 30-yard touchdown on a fumble return on the Buffaloes’ first offensive play.
“Dalton is a ball hawk. He stripped it right out,” Beck said. “What an exciting play.”
Fritz followed with a 53-yard touchdown for a 21-0 lead. Quarterback Koy Brack scored on a 2-yard touchdown and Calan Haberman caught a 28-yard scoring strike from Brack for a 35-0 lead.
Panther defenders Brock Blessing, Miller and Townshend Kurth stopped former Great Bend Panther Reece Morss shy of a first down at the Panther 31-yard line. Great Bend followed with a 69-yard scoring drive for a 42-0 lead.
Garden City was limited to 56 rushing yards.
Panther linebacker Brock Blessing had nine tackles and Blake Penka had three tackles for loss.
“Our defense came to play tonight. They were running around playing angry making big hits,” Beck said. “There was no better way to celebrate Senior Night than to play the way they did.”
PANTHERS 49, BUFFALOES 6
GC 0 0 6 0 – 6
GB 21 14 7 7 – 49
GB—Gage Fritz 26 run (Dani Franco kick)—9:35
GB—Dalton Miller 30 fumble return (Franco kick)—9:39
GB—Fritz 47 run (Franco kick)—1:19
GB—Brack 2 run (Franco kick)—7:29
GB—Calan Haberman 29 pass from Brack (Franco kick)—0:56
GB—Alex Schremmer 6 pass from Brack (Franco kick)—8:27
GC—Reece Morss 1 run (pass failed)—1:39
GB—Brack 1 run (Franco kick)—11:28
RUSHING—GC—37-56; GC—Morss 18-21; Erik Dominguez 7-32; Carlos Acosts 12-3; GB—28-226; Fritz 14-177; Miller 7-49; Brack 3-11; Nahum Olivas 1-3; J Moeder 2-2; team 1-(-17).
PASSING—GC—Acosta, 12-18-0, 144; GB—Brack 12-16-0, 167.
RECEIVING—GC—Kaleb LaPointe 5-53; Lane Durst 3-49; Tye Davis 2-21; Ethan Martin 2-21; GB—Miller 3-47; Peyton Duvall 4-45; Fritz 1-24; Schremmer 2-13.
TACKLES—GB—Brock Blessing 9; Miller 7; Jeffrey Spragis 6/2 for loss; Blake Penka, 6/3 for loss.
5A WEST FIRST ROUND, OCT. 26
Salina South 1-7 at Wichita Northwest 8-0
Wichita Heights 4-4 at Emporia 4-4
Newton 3-5 at Wichita Carroll 6-2
Goddard Eisenhower 3-5 at Salina Central 6-2
Liberal 1-7 at Maize High 7-1
Andover High 3-5 at Maize South 5-3
Valley Center 3-5 at Great Bend 6-2
Hays High 3-5 at Kapaun-Mt. Carmel 6-2
5A EAST FIRST ROUND, OCT. 26
Highland Park 0-8 at St. Thomas Aquinas 8-0
SM West 4-4 at Topeka Seaman 4-4
Topeka West 1-7 at Mill Valley 5-3
Lenexa St. James 1-7 at Lansing 5-3
KC Turner 1-7 at DeSoto 6-2
Blue Valley SW 3-5 at Shawnee Heights 4-4
Leavenworth 1-7 at KC Schlagle 5-3
Olathe West 2-6 at KC Washington4-4